In an Insys Therapeutics case that’s already full of shocking details, prosecutors just upped the ante with questions focused on a former regional sales manager.
Weeks into a trial against Insys founder John Kapoor and other top executives, that manager, Sunrise Lee, is pushing for a mistrial. The reason? “Salacious” testimony against her from a former Insys boss-turned-government witness.
In a motion for mistrial, Lee’s attorney argued that the government elicited testimony from Insys’ former VP of sales, Alec Burlakoff, that characterized his client “as a person with a proclivity to engage in morally questionable activity for financial gain.” At trial, government prosecutors questioned Burkaloff about whether Lee had worked as an escort and had topless photos posted on the internet.
After meeting Lee at a strip club, Burkaloff said he hired her as a regional sales manager because Insys leadership thought she would have the “ability and the willingness and the desire to talk to physicians and speak with them about the quid pro quo,” Burkaloff said, as quoted in the New York Post. Insys and its executives have faced years of allegations that they paid doctors to write scripts for the company’s powerful painkiller Subsys, including for patients who didn’t need such a strong opioid drug.
Lee faces criminal allegations of racketeering, kickbacks violations and mail fraud relating to her time at Insys. The government is also going after the company’s billionaire founder Kapoor. Burkaloff pleaded guilty to racketeering in November and is cooperating with the government.
Once Insys hired Lee, the executives received an anonymous email that topless photos of her were posted online, Burkaloff said at trial, according to the NY Post. She took them down and was able to keep her job, he added.
But the line of questioning tainted Lee’s character to the jury, her attorney argues.
“The jury heard questions that gave an inference that if Lee worked as an escort or operated an escort service for financial gain in the past and had topless photos on the internet, it is more likely that she committed the charged offense for financial gain,” he wrote, adding that “This is an improper use of character and propensity evidence.”
Now, the effect of the testimony can’t “be undone,” Lee’s lawyer wrote, so a mistrial is “necessary” under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. Alternatively, her lawyer asked the court to strike certain testimony and evidence, but said those measures may not be adequate.
Jurors have heard weeks of testimony in the case, including that Insys sales reps made a rap music video about their promotion of Subsys, an under-the-tongue spray version of fentanyl. The company has come under intense fire for its marketing of the powerful opioid, and has inked a tentative deal with the Department of Justice worth $150 million to resolve allegations of mismarketing.