Saturday, March 21, 2009

Records And Computer Alterations During Government Investigation: Obstruction of Justice

A recent case demonstrates what can happen if someone alters records or computers during a government investigation. On March 16, 2009, a former Pfizer District Sales Manager, Thomas Farina, was convicted after a 5-day jury trial in a federal court in Boston for obstruction of justice.

Evidence presented during the five day trial was that in the summer of 2004, Farina -- while working for Pfizer Inc. -- caused a sales representative under his direction to alter documents and backdate the alterations on his computer to delete the evidence of the promotion of a drug for uses and dosages for which it was not indicated or approved for promotion by the United States Food and Drug Administration. The evidence demonstrated that Farina instructed his sales representative on how to change the clock and date setting on the computer, and then alter and re-save the documents in order to make the sanitized documents appear to have been last modified at an earlier time. Pfizer disclosed this conduct to the United States and fully cooperated in the investigation and prosecution of the case.

At that time, Pfizer and its sales staff (including Farina) were aware of the fact that the company was under investigation for the promotion of that drug for uses and at dosages for which the FDA had specifically declined to approve this drug. In March 2004, the company issued a “document hold” with respect to its sales force concerning that drug, including to Farina and the sales representatives under his direction. In the summer of 2004, Farina was in the process of collecting relevant documents from its employees computers relating to the promotion of that drug, in response to the government's investigation when Farina engaged in the conduct that was the subject of the trial. Sentencing is set for June 11.

For the press release:

Attorney Commentary: This appears to be a misguided "loyal" employee where the effort to cover up the alleged misconduct resulted in a greater problem than the alleged wrongful promotion of the drug. In almost every case we've seen, altering documents or fabricating them will create more problems than addressing the issues raised in the original investigation. This applies to computer records as well. In many cases, the fabrication will often be used to show proof of intent to defraud.

Any questions or comments should be directed to: Tracy Green is a principal at Green and Associates in Los Angeles, California. They focus their practice on the representation of licensed professionals and businesses in civil, business, administrative and criminal proceedings, with a specialty in health care providers..


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