Sunrise Lee is a former pharmaceutical executive accused of giving a doctor a lapdance as part of her company’s scheme to bribe physicians into prescribing a powerful opiate painkiller, prosecutors say.
The revelation was made on the second day of the federal trial in the case of Insys Therapeutics founder John Kapoor and four other former executives Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.
Kapoor, Lee, and the other executives are accused of conspiring to pay doctors kickbacks by giving them fees for fake speaking engagements to push their highly addictive fentanyl spray.
Prosecutors said Lee is a former exotic dancer who was hired by the company to be a regional sales manager despite having no experience at all with pharmaceuticals. Prosecutors said her management experience only included running an escort service, The Washington Post reported.
The company hired attractive sales reps in their 20s and 30s and instructed them to “stroke” doctor’s hands while “begging” them to write prescriptions, Mother Jones reported.
Kapoor, Lee, and the three others charged have all denied any wrongdoing.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Insys Exec Sunrise Lee Gave a Doctor a Lapdance, Prosecutors Say
During the trial, former Insys sales representative Holly Brown testified that she was told to focus on selling to doctors known for prescribing large amounts of opioids, The AP reported.
Brown said she convinced Dr. Paul Madison of Chicago to become a paid speaker for Insys despite having concerns about his “shady operation” being run out of a “dingy strip mall in a not-so-nice area of town.”
The speaking engagements were shams and the doctors were essentially paid to go to high-priced dinners with friends, Brown said.
After one dinner, Brown said, she accompanied Lee, Madison, and another sales rep to The Underground club in Chicago.
Brown said that she saw Lee, a former Florida stripper, at the club sitting on Madison’s lap and “bouncing around,” with Madison’s hands “inappropriately all over” Lee’s breasts.
Lee’s lawyer, Peter Hortsmann, denied the allegation in court and accused prosecutors of “objectifying her in the same way… Dr. Madison did,” The Boston Globe reported.
2. Sunrise Lee’s Lawyer Says the Doctor Took ‘Advantage’ of Her
Hortsmann tried to show that “Brown’s memory was faulty” during his questioning, The AP reported.
Hortsmann asked Brown whether she had been drinking at the club, which she said she was.
Hortsmann asked Brown is she had been warned that Dr. Madison had a “certain reputation with female sales reps” and whether Madison “appeared to be taking advantage” of Lee at the club.
Brown confirmed that she had been warned about Madison and agreed that he appeared to be taking advantage of Lee.
Madison was convicted last year on unrelated charges of healthcare fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced in March.
Madison is suspected of taking more than $70,000 in bribes from the company to push prescriptions of their fentanyl spray, The Washington Post reported.
Over a three-year period, Madison accounted for 58 percent of all sales of the fentanyl spray in the state of Illinois, The New York Times reported.
3. Lee Was Part of Bribery Scheme to Push Deadly Opioids, Prosecutors Say
Lee was charged along with Insys founder John Kapoor and three other executives after prosecutors alleged they had cooked up a scheme to bribe doctors by paying them fees for sham speaking events that were billed as educational opportunities for doctors to learn about the company’s highly addictive fentanyl spray.
All five have denied any wrongdoing.
Kapoor’s lawyer claimed in court that any criminal acts were orchestrated by former Vice President of Sales Alec Burlakoff.
Burkaloff has already pleaded guilty to the bribery scheme and is expected to testify against Kapoor.
4. More Than 900 People Have Died From Using The Fentanyl Spray
The alleged bribery scheme centered around the fentanyl spray Subsys, The Washington Post reported.
The spray was approved by the FDA for treating the pain suffered by terminal cancer patients who had little options. But prosecutors say Insys convinced doctors to prescribe the drug for “off-label” uses to patients who did not need it.
More than 900 people have died while using Subsys since it was approved by the FDA in 2012, The Post reported.
In 2016, Insys made 18,000 payments to doctors totaling more than $2 million, CBS News reported.
5. The Case Comes as Opioid Makers Are Under Fire for the Drug Crisis
Insys is far from the only pharmaceutical company under fire for pushing opioid painkillers during the rise in America’s opioid overdose death epidemic.
A lawsuit in Massachusetts is accusing the Sacklers, one of America’s richest families and the owners of Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin, of profiting off the opioid crisis by aggressively marketing the painkiller, CNN reports.
“For many years, Purdue, its executives, and members of the Sackler family have tried to shift the blame and hide their role in creating the opioid epidemic. We are grateful to the court for lifting the impoundment on our complaint so that the public and families so deeply impacted by this crisis can see the allegations of the misconduct that has harmed so many,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement to CNN on Monday.
The attorneys for the family have denied any wrongdoing.
The Sacklers, who are estimated to be worth $13 billion, previously settled a federal lawsuit in 2007 for $600 million as part of a plea deal after prosecutors accused them of “misleading and defrauding physicians and consumers” about how addictive OxyContin is.
“They directed deceptive sales and marketing practices deep within Purdue, sending hundreds of orders to executives and line employees. From the money that Purdue collected selling opioids, they paid themselves and their family billions of dollars,” Healey said.