As Mark Perkal stood before a judge yesterday to be sentenced in a generic drug scam, he did not stand alone. His family and members of Baltimore's Hasidic community stood with him.
While seven witnesses, including his wife and daughter, testified that Perkal was a pillar of the community and a religious man with the highest moral values, 100 more supporters jammed Judge John R. Hargrove's U.S. District Courtroom and overflowed into the lobby.
That outpouring of support apparently worked.
Judge Hargrove sentenced Perkal, 46, of the 3800 block of Labyrinth Road, to four months of the least restrictive form of home detention on his guilty plea to charges of obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting false statements to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Perkal also was sentenced to 20 months' probation.
A founder of Baltimore-based PharmaKinetics Laboratories Inc., Perkal was executive vice president and chief scientific officer of the firm when it tested a generic substitute for the hypertension drug Dyazide made by the Bolar Pharmaceutical Co.
PharmaKinetics conducts its tests on people to determine the therapeutic effects of drugs and how readily they are absorbed by the body.
Bolar, however, had illegally used Dyazide's ingredients for the drug samples it submitted for testing because the product it wanted to market would not have passed FDA tests. It tried to hide the discrepancy from the government when the FDA began to investigate irregularities in generic drug manufacturing, according to First Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary P. Jordan, who has prosecuted most of the generic drug cases.
In June 1989, Robert Shulman and Jacob Rivers, two senior Bolar officials, asked Perkal to give them a concocted drug that would fool federal investigators into thinking Bolar had manufactured a legitimate generic version of Dyazide.
Shulman and Rivers have since been convicted of conspiracy and false statement charges. Rivers was sentenced earlier this month to four years in jail and a $1 million fine. Bolar was fined $10 million in March 1991.
When Perkal refused, Mr. Jordan said in court papers, Bolar officials threatened to ruin PharmaKinetics financially by taking their business elsewhere.
Perkal testified yesterday that the money wasn't the issue. He told the judge that he feared for his family's safety if he he didn't go along. He said Shulman had a "street tough" reputation and had made veiled threats against his family, although he wasn't aware that Shulman had actually ever harmed anyone.
"The longer the investigation went on, the more likely he would be to respond by fulfilling the threats made to my family," Perkal said.
According to court records, Perkal even consulted his rabbi, who reluctantly advised him to give Bolar the substitute capsules -- apparently the lesser of two evils. The rabbi went so far as to accompany Perkal on a trip to New York to talk to the Bolar officials, court papers show.
Mr. Jordan suggested during questioning that Shulman's reputation did not prevent Perkal from doing business with him for a long period of time.
Still, Perkal insisted, "I felt I'd done what I needed to do to minimize the risk [of harm]."
Character witnesses for Perkal testified yesterday that he belongs to a neighborhood crime patrol in Northwest Baltimore, supports a facility for sick Jewish people called Hospitality House and always stresses moral behavior and respect for authority.
Dr. Michael J. Elman, a retinal surgeon and an associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said he once inspected Perkal's facilities and was amazed by the firm's high standards.
He said he later got to know Perkal and was impressed with his commitment to the study of the Jewish law and his involvement with Hospitality House.
"I think it would be a tremendous loss [if Perkal were sent to prison]," Dr. Elman said. "For the Hospitality House, it would be a nightmare. People would suffer. The community would be seriously punished."
Elana Edelman, the third of Perkal's 10 children, testified that her father trained his family in honesty, for example, advising them to give back money when they received too much change from a cashier. She said that he once made her call the police when she bought a stereo that she later found out had been stolen.
Judge Hargrove scolded Perkal for taking part in a scam that has made millions distrustful of generic drugs. But he said he was convinced by the testimony and the number of people in the court that Perkal did not deserve jail time.
Perkal's home detention sentence does not require him to wear a monitoring bracelet. He will be able to leave his home for employment, community service, religious services, medical care, training programs and other authorized absences.
Thirty people and eight companies -- including PharmaKinetics -- have been convicted in the ongoing generic drug probe. Nearly $20 million in fines has been assessed. PharmaKinetics has filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 to reorganize.