© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Judge Denies Release To Former Kansas City Druggist Who Diluted Cancer Meds

Chris Murphy
The Charles Evans Whittaker U.S. Courthouse in downtown Kansas City, where Courtney was sentenced to 30 years in prison in December 2002.

Robert Courtney pleaded guilty in 2001 to diluting cancer and other medications over the course of nearly a decade.

A federal judge has denied ex-pharmacist Robert Courtney’s request for compassionate release from prison, saying he had not demonstrated “extraordinary and compelling” reasons for reducing his 30-year prison sentence.

Courtney pleaded guilty in 2001 to diluting cancer and other medications over the course of nearly a decade.

Now 67, Courtney claims to suffer from a variety of chronic, debilitating health conditions. He also says he is at risk of contracting COVID-19 due to his age and poor health.

But U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith, the judge who sentenced Courtney to prison nearly 19 years ago, found none of those reasons sufficient to release Courtney from prison. Courtney is incarcerated in the federal penitentiary in Englewood, Colorado.

Smith noted that the incidence of Covid-19 at Englewood is exceedingly low, about 0.7% of the prison population. And he said that Courtney’s health conditions did not place him at increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

Courtney also argued that he had rehabilitated himself and been a productive inmate. But Smith said those were not extraordinary or compelling reasons for his release.

The families of Courtney's families were outraged when they learned two months ago that the Bureau of Prisons intended to release Courtney to home confinement in Trimble, Missouri. The BOP eventually backtracked and canceled its decision. Courtney’s lawyers said the cancellation was due to “the numerous threats Courtney’s family received when news of his release” was made public.

FBI and Food and Drug Administration agents began investigating Courtney in the summer of 2001 after Kansas City oncologist Verda Hunter notified them that a salesman from drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co. had told her Courtney was dispensing far more of the cancer medication Gemzar than he was purchasing.

Agents set up a sting operation to buy drugs from Courtney, who mixed cancer drugs for Hunter, and discovered that the drugs were far less potent than Hunter had ordered. One sample contained less than 1 percent of the prescribed amount.

Authorities said the scheme lasted for a decade and affected as many as 4,200 patients and 98,000 prescriptions for cancer medications and a variety of other drugs.

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.