By Tim McLaughlin
BOSTON (Reuters) - A federal judge in Boston on Tuesday is expected to hear arguments on whether to freeze nearly $500 million in assets, including luxury homes, related to New England Compounding Center, the pharmacy linked to a deadly U.S. meningitis outbreak.
U.S. District Judge Dennis Saylor has ordered an expedited hearing to determine whether to freeze at least $461 million in assets belonging to NECC, its owners and two related companies, court records show. Saylor granted the request after plaintiffs' attorneys argued that NECC and its owners could conceal assets in order to avoid judgment in a growing number of cases being filed in the federal court system.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 34 people have died and 490 have been injured after Framingham, Massachusetts-based NECC shipped thousands of fungus-tainted vials of methylprednisolone acetate to medical facilities throughout the United States. The steroid was typically used to ease back pain.
NECC and sister company Ameridose have been shut down as U.S. regulators and law enforcement investigate what happened.
"There are so many unknowns in this case that we need to take this step to safeguard our clients` interests and the interests of the hundreds of people we believe were injured by the negligence of NECC and its owners," said Thomas Sobol, a Boston-based lawyer representing plaintiffs in the case before Judge Saylor.
Meanwhile, lawyers for NECC and the family that launched the specialty pharmacy are asking Saylor to stay all proceedings pending a ruling on whether to consolidate a number of lawsuits via the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.
"There are at least 43 such cases currently pending in numerous federal courts around the country," NECC lawyers argued in a recent motion. "All of these actions seek recovery for injuries allegedly caused by the injection of methylprednisolone acetate compounded and distributed by NECC."
Barry Cadden, who was NECC's top pharmacist, launched the pharmacy with the help of his brother-in-law Gregory Conigliaro, a recycling entrepreneur. Sobol said in court papers the two men seemed to thrive financially.
In 2010, Conigliaro bought a $3.5 million home in Southborough, Massachusetts, with six bedrooms, nine bathrooms and more than 11,000 square feet of space, according to court papers filed by Sobol. Barry Cadden and his wife, Lisa, bought a beach home about three years ago that recently was featured in Rhode Island Monthly magazine.
(Reporting By Tim McLaughlin; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)