Lawyer Says Case Against Lap Dancer-Turned Sales Manager in Kapoor Trial Is Laughable

(Bloomberg) -- The case against ex-stripper Sunrise Lee is so thin she shouldn’t even be in the courtroom, her lawyer told a jury in the racketeering trial of Insys Therapeutics Inc. founder John Kapoor and other former managers.

Lee, who was a manager at Insys, is accused of scheming with Kapoor and three other ex-executives to bribe doctors to write more prescriptions for the company’s highly addictive opioid painkiller Subsys and turn it into a blockbuster. She allegedly helped court the doctors with lap dances and paid them for sham speaking events.

“The crucial question is, why is Sunrise Lee here?” Peter Horstmann, her lawyer, told jurors in federal court in Boston Friday. Other ex-Insys executives who oversaw such payments were never charged, Hortsmann said.

Horstmann said Lee was pulled into the case by a panoply of lies told by Alec Burlakoff, former head of sales and one of the government’s star witnesses in the 10-week trial. Burlakoff lied about Lee’s knowledge of the scam, including her attendance at meetings where it was allegedly plotted, Horstmann told the panel. He noted that Lee lives in Michigan, far from the company’s Phoenix headquarters.

Horstmann followed Kapoor’s attorney as closing arguments wrapped up Friday. Jurors are expected to begin deliberating on the case next week.

Kapoor is the first pharmaceutical company chief executive to be prosecuted for his alleged role in the national opioid epidemic, which claims more than 100 lives in the U.S. daily, government data show. On trial with Kapoor and Lee are former vice president Michael Gurry, ex-national sales director Richard Simon and ex-regional sales director Joseph Rowan.

In his closing, Horstmann went right after two witnesses’ accounts of a lap dance that Lee allegedly gave to a doctor at a Chicago nightclub.

“They exaggerated an incident that, by all accounts, was probably pretty funny,” he said. “The government bought it hook, line and sinker because it’s interesting,” he said. “But it’s not fair.”

Bribery and Timing

Horstmann said Dr. Gavin Awerbuch, the top Subsys prescriber in Lee’s sales region and a witness for the government, joined the Insys speakers program before Burlakoff hired Lee, then a stripper, in August 2012. By then, he said, the doctors had written hundreds of Subsys prescriptions.

“You can’t bribe somebody for things they’ve already done,” he argued.

Steven Tyrrell, Simon’s lawyer, told the panel there’s no evidence his client was involved in creating the speakers program and that there was nothing in his emails about “bribing doctors.” He said the sales executive repeatedly sought to comply with legal marketing practices.

He also questioned Burlakoff’s claim that he had told Simon bribing doctors was “the dirty little secret of the pharma industry.” Tyrell said no witness corroborated the conversation and that the ex-sales chief was an “admitted liar.”

‘Black and White’

Rowan’s lawyer, Michael Kendall, sought to turn government evidence against his client into an advantage. Prosecutors contend taped conversations with sales reps-turned-whistle-blowers proved Rowan knew the speakers program was a vehicle for bribing doctors. Kendall pointed to a portion of one tape where his client said participation in the program wasn’t predicated on the volume of Subsys subscriptions.

“We don’t entice people to speak for us because they write for us, OK? That’s black and white,” Rowan said in a 2012 recording, according to a transcript Kendall showed jurors.

Gurry’s attorney Tracy Miner told jurors the executive never approved lies that call center employees told to win prior authorizations from insurance companies. Gurry is accused of setting up the reimbursement center and signing off on a campaign to dupe insurers into covering Subsys scripts.

That call-script scheme, which forced Insys employees to lie about the origin of patients’ pain, was launched by Elizabeth Gurierri, who ran the call center and testified for the government, Miner argued.

“It was the biggest mistake of that man’s life to hire that woman,” she said.

In the government’s rebuttal, prosecutor Fred Wyshak zeroed in on defense claims that Kapoor was kept in the dark about the nefarious acts of ex-CEO Michael Babich and Burlakoff. Beth Wilkinson, Kapoor’s lawyer, had argued some emails showed he believed the speakers program was legitimate.

“It’s sort of like that scene from Casablanca -- I’m shocked to find there’s illegal gambling going on,” Wyshak told the jury.

Wyshak pointed to what he called the “smoking gun” in the case, an internal Insys memo comparing the numbers of Insys prescriptions doctors wrote with speaking fees they received, titled “ROI -- Return on Investment.” Nathaniel Yeager, Wyshak’s colleague, said Thursday in his closing that at Insys the measurement should be called “ROB -- Return On Bribe.”

The case is U.S. v. Kapoor, 16-cr-10343, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).

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