Man Arrested in Drug Tampering Case That Caused Two Deaths
SEATTLE (AP) _ A man put cyanide into capsules of Sudafed 12-hour cold medicine last year in an attempt to collect $700,000 in life insurance on his wife, federal prosecutors alleged today.
The tampering killed two people and left Joseph Meling’s wife in a coma, although she eventually recovered.
The charges against Meling were included in an indictment returned Friday but kept sealed until federal agents could arrest Meling on Sunday.
The 20-count indictment includes six counts of product tampering, as well as counts of giving false statements in court and mail fraud. The six tampering counts include the two deaths, his wife’s injury and three instances of contaminated capsules that were found later.
It alleges Meling poisoned the capsules in an attempt to kill his wife, Jennifer, so he could collect the life insurance from his former employer, Prudential Insurance Co.
The indictment also accuses Meling of staging a May 1989 burglary to collect renter’s home insurance. The Melings collected $8,892 in that instance from another insurance company, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
Meling also is charged with perjury based on testimony he gave in a lawsuit filed against the drug’s manufacturer by survivors of the two people who died. Meling said in depositions that he had not possessed or used cyanide, but the indictment alleges he purchased the poison at a chemical company in Kent a few weeks before his wife was poisoned.
If convicted, Meling could face up to life in prison on tampering charges related to the two deaths.
Meling’s attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., said his client would plead ″flat-out not guilty″ to all charges in the indictment.
Mrs. Meling ingested a cyanide-filled Sudafed 12-hour decongestant capsule on Feb. 2, 1991, in the couple’s apartment. She fell into a coma, but recovered.
Later that month, Kathleen Daneker, 40, of Tacoma, and Stanley McWhorter, 44, of Lacey, Wash., died after taking cyanide-laced Sudafed 12-hour capsules bought at stores near their homes, authorities said.
A nationwide recall of the medicine was announced March 3, 1991. At least three packages containing cyanide-tainted capsules were removed in the following week from store shelves in the Olympia and Tacoma areas.
Meling was a financial adviser and salesman for an Olympia-area insurance company, where he went after leaving Prudential, when the tampering incidents occurred. He left the company soon afterward.
A lawyer for the widower of one of the victims said Friday that the victims’ families had reached an out-of-court settlement with the drug’s maker, Burroughs Wellcome Co. The lawyer, Brad Fulton, said the settlement included a gag order barring parties from discussing the case.
Mrs. Meling moved to her parents’ house in Vancouver, Wash., and filed for divorce shortly after her illness was linked to the two deaths. But she dropped her divorce petition last fall and reconciled with her husband.
Vance said the couple remains together and Mrs. Meling doesn’t believe that her husband tried to kill her.