Pennsylvania pharmacist convicted on ethics charges

December 30, 2008

A former pharmacist has been convicted of felony conflict of interest charges for taking payments from drug companies and pocketing money for supervising pharmacy interns from Duquesne University.

A former pharmacist has been convicted of felony conflict-of-interest charges for taking payments from drug companies and pocketing money for supervising pharmacy interns from Duquesne University.

Steven Fiorello, 61, of Palmyra, could face up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines for each of two felony convictions. Dauphin County Judge Richard Lewis scheduled sentencing for Jan. 21.

Between 1998 and 2003, Fiorello was employed as the Director of Pharmacy for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare’s Office of Mental Health, Substance and Abuse Services. As part of his responsibilities, Fiorello served on a committee that decided which drugs would be used for mental-health treatment in all state hospitals - decisions which guided more than $9 million in annual drug purchases by the state.

Fiorello paid more than $27,000 in civil fines after the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission cited him for state ethics violations in connection with the same allegations in 2005.

Attorney General Tom Corbett filed criminal charges against Fiorello a year later. He was charged with accepting money from drug companies for consulting work, as honoraria, and to pay for trips between 1998 and 2003, while he was the secretary of a panel that oversaw Medicaid drug guidelines for state hospitals.

“Pennsylvania law very clearly prohibits state officials from using their public positions for personal financial gain,” Corbett said. “Accepting illegal payments and then failing to report them is not only a conflict of interest, but also a violation of the public trust.”

According to the criminal charges, while Fiorello was helping to guide the purchase of various drugs by DPW, he was also paid more than $12,000 by drug companies for appearances, speeches, and presentations, as well as service on a drug company advisory board. Additionally, Fiorello allegedly used his state position to obtain payment from Duquesne University for supervising pharmacy interns who were assigned to DPW.

Fiorello was also charged with accepting perks from Pfizer and Janssen. Both companies were promoting the use of psychiatric drugs in state hospitals at the time. And he used his position to pocket $2,400 from Duquesne University for supervising pharmacy interns at state hospitals between 2000 and 2003, prosecutors said.

Fiorello was convicted on a third, misdemeanor count for failing to file a full accounting of his outside income on his state ethics disclosure forms.

"We're very pleased with this outcome," Deputy Attorney General Jonelle Harter Eshbach said. "We would not have brought criminal charges if we had not felt they were justified, over and above the ethics case."