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Pharmacist who sabotaged vaccine to plead guilty to federal charges


The Wisconsin pharmacist who pulled dozens of COVID-19 vaccine vials from a hospital refrigerator, agreed to plead guilty in federal court of attempting to tamper with the vaccine, a review by sister station WISN 12 News of the plea agreement determined.The agreement, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, allowed Steven Brandenburg, of Grafton, to avoid an indictment by a federal grand jury and plea to two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products, with reckless disregard for the risk that another person will be placed in danger of death or bodily injury, the records show.According to the deal, Brandenburg, 46, admitted to pulling the same box of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine out of the refrigerator at Aurora Medical Center - Grafton on consecutive days late last month. The Moderna vaccine needs to be stored at specific temperatures to remain effective. "Recklessly disregarding his knowledge of the applicable storage specifications and the associated risks, Brandenburg, on two successive shifts that began on the evenings of December 24 and December 25, 2020, removed the same box of Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine from the refrigerator in the pharmacy at the Grafton Facility, for periods of multiple hours, intending to render that same vaccine inert or ineffective," the plea document noted.During the investigation, it was determined 57 people had received doses of the vaccine from the vials in the box Brandenburg handled.According to the plea agreement, he believed in various "conspiracy theories," subscribed to notions of "alternative history" and was skeptical of vaccines in general and the Moderna vaccine specifically."Distributing the COVID-19 vaccine is critical to overcoming this pandemic, which continues to end lives and upend our economy," United States Attorney Matthew Krueger said in a news release. "As these charges show, the Justice Department will pursue anyone — and especially any medical professional — who tampers with the vaccine."When asked about the plea deal, Brandenburg's attorney told WISN 12 News, "No comment." Brandenburg agreed to plead guilty to the charges, which each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. A Justice Department official said the judge has complete discretion to go higher.Brandenburg agreed to pay restitution and will be sentenced at a later date.Brandenburg faces one misdemeanor charge of attempted criminal damage to property in Oazukee County Court.He pleaded not guilty to that count.Brandenburg was scheduled to be back in Ozaukee County Court on March 18.Two weeks ago, a state review board suspended Brandenburg's pharmacy license. The hospital also fired Brandenburg. In a court document filed five days after the last sabotage attempt, Brandenburg's wife told a divorce judge she feared for their children's safety.Brandenburg's wife, Gretchen, relayed what she claimed their youngest daughter told her after a weekend stay with her dad."This is not our home, Heaven is our home," the mother said the 6-year-old told her."Based on these statements, I am concerned that the children are in imminent harm, specially that Steven would take the children to heaven,” the wife told the judge.

The Wisconsin pharmacist who pulled dozens of COVID-19 vaccine vials from a hospital refrigerator, agreed to plead guilty in federal court of attempting to tamper with the vaccine, a review by sister station WISN 12 News of the plea agreement determined.

The agreement, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, allowed Steven Brandenburg, of Grafton, to avoid an indictment by a federal grand jury and plea to two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products, with reckless disregard for the risk that another person will be placed in danger of death or bodily injury, the records show.

According to the deal, Brandenburg, 46, admitted to pulling the same box of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine out of the refrigerator at Aurora Medical Center - Grafton on consecutive days late last month. The Moderna vaccine needs to be stored at specific temperatures to remain effective.

"Recklessly disregarding his knowledge of the applicable storage specifications and the associated risks, Brandenburg, on two successive shifts that began on the evenings of December 24 and December 25, 2020, removed the same box of Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine from the refrigerator in the pharmacy at the Grafton Facility, for periods of multiple hours, intending to render that same vaccine inert or ineffective," the plea document noted.

During the investigation, it was determined 57 people had received doses of the vaccine from the vials in the box Brandenburg handled.

According to the plea agreement, he believed in various "conspiracy theories," subscribed to notions of "alternative history" and was skeptical of vaccines in general and the Moderna vaccine specifically.

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"Distributing the COVID-19 vaccine is critical to overcoming this pandemic, which continues to end lives and upend our economy," United States Attorney Matthew Krueger said in a news release. "As these charges show, the Justice Department will pursue anyone — and especially any medical professional — who tampers with the vaccine."

When asked about the plea deal, Brandenburg's attorney told WISN 12 News, "No comment."

Brandenburg agreed to plead guilty to the charges, which each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. A Justice Department official said the judge has complete discretion to go higher.

Brandenburg agreed to pay restitution and will be sentenced at a later date.

Brandenburg faces one misdemeanor charge of attempted criminal damage to property in Oazukee County Court.

He pleaded not guilty to that count.

Brandenburg was scheduled to be back in Ozaukee County Court on March 18.

Two weeks ago, a state review board suspended Brandenburg's pharmacy license. The hospital also fired Brandenburg.

In a court document filed five days after the last sabotage attempt, Brandenburg's wife told a divorce judge she feared for their children's safety.

Brandenburg's wife, Gretchen, relayed what she claimed their youngest daughter told her after a weekend stay with her dad.

"This is not our home, Heaven is our home," the mother said the 6-year-old told her.

"Based on these statements, I am concerned that the children are in imminent harm, specially that Steven would take the children to heaven,” the wife told the judge.




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