The former chief pharmacist for the Penn state Public Welfare Department, who earned extra income from sources that included two drug manufacturers, was charged Tuesday with crimes that carry potential prison time.
Steven J. Fiorello, of Palmyra, was fined more than $27,000 last year by the State Ethics Commission for using his position to get consulting work. He was arraigned Tuesday on criminal charges for the same activity.
"Pennsylvania law very clearly prohibits state officials from using their public positions for personal financial gain," said state Attorney General Tom Corbett. "Accepting illegal payments and then failing to report them is not only a conflict of interest, but also a violation of the public trust."
Fiorella was arraigned Tuesday on two felony counts of conflict of interest, which each carry a maximum five-year prison term and $10,000 fine, and misdemeanor counts of accepting honoraria and failing to disclose income on annual statements of financial interest.
A preliminary hearing was set for Dec. 1, but Fiorello's lawyer, Joseph Metz of Harrisburg, said it is likely to be postponed.
"I think both sides want to sit back and take a look at what we have here," Metz said.
Fiorello, 59, served as pharmacy director for the welfare department's Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services for several years. He left state government and now works in the pharmacy industry as a consultant, his lawyer said. He already paid Ethics Commission fines totaling $27,269 in April 2005.
Fiorello allegedly accepted more than $10,000 for consulting work he did and trips he took between 1998 and 2003 for various companies, including the Pfizer and Janssen drug companies, according to court papers.
Two of the Pfizer payments, totaling more than $2,100, covered Fiorello's speaking fees and expenses at company conferences in 1999 in Dublin, Ireland, and Orlando, Fla., where Fiorello presented the results of a state-financed study. The study of antidepressants found Zoloft -- a Pfizer product -- to be among the least expensive drugs of that type, according to the Ethics Commission.
The commission cited repeated conflicts between Fiorello's unofficial business and his official duties, which included serving on a department panel that decided which medications may be given to patients at nine state mental hospitals.
The second felony count involves private work Fiorello allegedly did on state time supervising pharmacy-student interns at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh in 2000, 2001 and 2003. Fiorello received checks totaling $2,400 from the university, according to court papers.
This vindicates Allen Jones, a governmental whistleblower who was fired in June of 2004 for having spoken to the New York Times and the BMJ when evidence of corruption, fraud and graft was covered up, ignored and set aside by the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General (OIG).
Jones found that powerful and very expensive psychiatric drugs were (and are) being excessively and inappropriately used throughout the public health system as a result of this corrupt influence.
When, as an OIG Investigator, he uncovered evidence of improper drug company influence, including payments of honorariums to state employees, (a felony in PA) he was told point-blank to back off, that "drug companies write checks to both sides of the isle."
The OIG and the Administration refused to consider his concerns and actively shut down all investigation. Despite threats, he did not remain silent.
Instead, he entered a Federal first amendment lawsuit in November of 2002. When the Rendell Administration also refused to investigate the wrongdoing, he went public.
His findings were first reported by the New York Times on February 1, 2004.
Two British Medical Journal (BMJ) articles introduced his concerns and followed up on the New York Times article. In one BMJ article, Jeanne Lenzer exposed President Bush's plan to screen the entire population for mental illness.
The article shattered all prior BMJ records for downloads, letters and Rapid responses. Within days the article had circled the globe and has been cited on thousands of Internet sites and in newspaper stories across the nation. The article links to Allen Jone's full Whistleblower Report.
Allen Jones has worked with another whistleblower, Dr Stefan Kruszewski, a psychiatrist who was also fired by Pennsylvania government when he confirmed the costs and dangers of the corruption that Allen Jones was working to expose.
Mother Jones Magazine recently did an article on their findings – and the consequences. See also an article by John Whitehead, President of the Rutherford Institute.
On October 17, 2005 federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency Administrator Charles Curie announced that SAMSHA had withdrawn its support of TMAP and Teen Screen.
Allen Jones continues to fight in federal court to protect his rights and the rights of other whistleblowers.