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Former Serono executives charged with offering kickbacks for AIDS drug prescriptions

Former Serono executives charged with offering kickbacks for AIDS drug prescriptions

Four former executives of the drug company Serono Laboratories were charged Thursday with offering kickbacks to doctors for writing prescriptions for an HIV treatment drug with sagging sales. An indictment handed up by a federal grand jury accuses two former vice presidents--John Bruens, 48, of San Diego, and Mary Stewart, 44, of North Andover, Mass.--of getting two regional sales directors to persuade doctors to write more prescriptions for the AIDS wasting treatment Serostim. In exchange for writing up to 30 prescriptions, the sales directors--Melissa Vaughn, 43, of Louisville, Colo., and Marc Sirockman, 41, of Flemington, N.J.--promised doctors in Florida and New Jersey free trips to a medical conference in France in 1999, according to the indictment. All four left Serono between 1999 and 2000. All are charged with conspiracy. Bruens and Stewart are charged with seven counts, Vaughn and Sirockman with two counts, of offering to pay illegal remunerations. If convicted, they could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine per count. An arraignment date has not been set. "The allegations are not at all accurate," said Mark A. Berman, Stewart's lawyer. "She's absolutely innocent. She was committed to saving lives." Bruens's lawyer, Tom Souther, declined to comment on the indictment. Vaughn's attorney, Adam Hoffinger, did not immediately return a telephone call to the Associated Press. Tracy Miner, Sirockman's lawyer, said the free trips to the Third International Conference on Nutrition and HIV Infection, held in Cannes, France, were not payoffs. "The doctors were sent to a legitimate medical conference to learn about a disease that was threatening patients' lives," Miner said. In December, another former Serono sales representative, Adam Stupak, 40, of Hewlett, N.Y., pleaded guilty to offering kickbacks to three New York doctors for writing Serostim prescriptions. Renee Connolly, a Serono spokeswoman, said the company would not comment on the cases but said it is cooperating with federal investigators. "The company takes compliance issues very seriously and has in place a rigorous compliance program to ensure that its employees meet the highest ethical standards," Connolly said. (AP)

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