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Prosecutors Say Ex-Pharmacist Robert Courtney Does Not Deserve Sentence Reduction

Chris Murphy

Federal prosecutors in Kansas City are opposing former pharmacist Robert Courtney's request to reduce his sentence to time served.

Courtney, 67, is serving a 30-year prison sentence for diluting cancer medications and is incarcerated in the federal penitentiary in Englewood, Colorado. He was sentenced in December 2002 and is currently scheduled to be released in May 2027.

Courtney argues he should be released early because he has numerous health problems that put him at risk of contracting COVID-19. He also claims he has made efforts to rehabilitate himself.

But in court documents filed Friday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas City said Courtney’s request is unwarranted on either basis.

“Obviously, nothing has changed about the nature and seriousness of the offense,” the document says. “The 30 year sentence was, and remains, just punishment.”

Courtney’s crimes remain an open wound among the hundreds of families who lost loved ones in his nearly decade-long scheme to water down cancer medications, in some cases to a mere fraction of their prescribed potency, in order to boost his profits.

The FBI later said that Courtney's crimes affected 4,200 patients and involved 98,000 prescriptions for cancer medications and other drugs.

Courtney pleaded guilty to a variety of crimes that, under sentencing guidelines, called for a sentence of between 17 and 22 years in prison. But the government argued for a so-called upward departure, and U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith gave him 30 years.

“Your crimes are a shock to the conscience of a nation, the conscience of a community and the conscience of this court,” Smith told Courtney at his sentencing hearing.

Earlier this month, KCUR reported that prison authorities were preparing to release Courtney to a halfway house on July 16 and then to home confinement in Trimble, Missouri, because he was at risk of contracting COVID-19 and was not a recidivism risk.

Technically, that would not have been a reduction of his sentence but a modification of its location, allowing Courtney to serve the remainder outside of prison.

The news triggered an uproar among family members whose loved ones were victimized by Courtney. Federal prosecutors in Kansas City said they were not consulted and the now-retired assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Courtney, Gene Porter, said the decision was misguided.

Three days later, Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, announced on Twitter that prison authorities told him that Courtney would not in fact be let out of prison.

It remained unclear, however, if the authorities were still considering whether to release Courtney at some point before his sentence expired.

For the past few months, Courtney has tried to expedite his release from prison. In April, Smith, on procedural grounds, denied Courtney’s motion to reduce his sentence, ruling he had not exhausted his administrative remedies. But Courtney’s motion remains before the court, which prompted the U.S. Attorney’s Office response on Friday opposing it.

Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Dan was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. and moved to Kansas City with his family when he was eight years old. He majored in philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis and holds law and journalism degrees from Boston University. He has been an avid public radio listener for as long as he can remember – which these days isn’t very long… Dan has been a two-time finalist in The Gerald Loeb Awards for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism, and has won multiple regional awards for his legal and health care coverage. Dan doesn't have any hobbies as such, but devours one to three books a week, assiduously works The New York Times Crossword puzzle Thursdays through Sundays and, for physical exercise, tries to get in a couple of rounds of racquetball per week.