Pfizer Exec Gets 6 Months' Home Confinement for Off-Label Bextra Sales

Last Updated Jul 20, 2009 4:33 PM EDT

Thomas Farina, the Pfizer sales manager convicted for his role in leading "The Highlanders," a team of rogue drug reps who promoted Bextra for off-label use in Brooklyn, N.Y., was sentenced to home confinement and electronic monitoring -- probably via ankle bracelet -- for six months.

He will remain on probation for three years. No monetary fine was imposed beyond a $100 court fee.

The move brings to a close a dark chapter for Pfizer, which agreed to pay $2.3 billion to settle federal charges that the sales had defrauded Medicare. Convicted earlier was Mary Holloway, who was fined $75,000 and given two years' probation for directing a sales team of about 100 reps who distributed off-label. Farina assisted Holloway in that effort, in which they touted Bextra for various types of post-operative pain even though it was not FDA-approved for that use. Holloway alleged at her sentencing that Pfizer's management approved and arranged the off-label promotion. The company even put out a press release touting off-label uses. Farina further entangled himself by deleting files from his computer after the investigation of Bextra began. He referred to his sales team as "The Highlanders," a reference to a movie about a group of immortal warriors who must kill or be killed.

Court documents state that Farina left Pfizer in March 2005 to take a position at Abbott Labs as a sales manager in Rochester, N.Y. He will lose that job as a result of this conviction, his sentencing memo states.

The memo adds one new detail to the case -- that Farina and a colleague altered post-operative briefing sheets while working to encourage surgeons to use Bextra. The Cox-2 painkiller has since been withdrawn from the market due to its similarity to Merck's Vioxx.Here's the court's sentencing memo:

Judge Joseph L. Tauro: Sentencing held on 7/16/2009 for Thomas Farina (1), Count(s) 2, The court orders the defendant placed on probation for a term of 3 years with the first 6 months to be served in home confinement with electronic monitoring. The Court further imposes a special assessment of $100; Count(s) 3-4, Acquitted and Discharged. Government to notify the Court on what they intend to do about Count 1. ... (Attorneys present: Susan Poswistillo and Sarah Bloom for the Government. William Kettlewell for the defendant.)
(Insider note: Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Bloom is a longtime foe of Pfizer, having plagued the company since at least the days of the $430 million Neurontin settlement in 2004.)

You can read Farina's memo to the judge prior to his sentencing here, along with other original documents in the case.