Sami Anwar’s fraudulent human clinical research left a trail of victims.
A 3-year-old girl was permanently scarred after she was enrolled in a scabies study for a new cream medication. Her real problem was eczema.
A teen girl was hospitalized for trying to kill herself. She had been participating in a smoking cessation study and Pfizer research scientists worried the drug might increase suicidal feelings.
And another man died while serving as a test subject in not one, but two different clinical trials at the same time. His medical condition was not being checked or monitored by a doctor, and his death was never reported to the drug companies.
They are just three of the hundreds of research subjects affected through Anwar’s trials.
For six years, the Richland researcher collected millions of dollars from pharmaceutical companies and sponsors while claiming to be testing medicine for various studies.
But what Anwar — who operated Mid-Columbia Research and Zain Research — really did was dump the medications and tell his employees to falsify records.
And when study participants were given the actual experimental drugs, Anwar kept incomplete journals on the drugs’ safety and efficacy while also failing to accurately report what really was happening with the patients.
In the end, Anwar’s actions placed “millions of citizens in real danger through his intentional submission of fraudulent and corrupt medical data into a public health system that Americans rely on every day,” said federal prosecutors.
Now, the medical researcher — who turned 42 on Saturday — will spend 28 years and four months behind bars.
He was convicted last November of 47 felony counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, fraudulently obtaining controlled substances and furnishing materially false information to the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA.
Mid-Columbia Research was convicted of the same 47 counts.
Zain Research was convicted of one count each of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. The business was acquitted of the other 45 counts.
Anwar did not testify at his trial, and he opted not to speak at last week’s 10-hour sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court. He is appealing the conviction and sentence.
The Richland federal building is closed to the public, so only the judge, court staff, prosecutors, defense and some witnesses and victims were allowed inside. Others, including the probation officer, used a call-in system for the hearing.
Prosecutors say Anwar has “never accepted a shred of responsibility for his crimes,” which they say included a multi-year campaign of intimidation, threats, harassment and obstruction in order to cover up what he was doing.
The studies covered a broad spectrum of ailments, diseases and other conditions, including: cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, liver fibrosis and cirrhosis, opioid addiction, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and bipolar disorder.
Anwar trained as a medical doctor in his native Pakistan before moving to the United States in 2008 and becoming a U.S. citizen. He was unable to get his license in America, so he turned to medical research.
He hired doctors who were in financial straits and used his companies as a front for legitimate human clinical research trial sites.
When the Food and Drug Administration caught on to what he was doing and issued a warning, Anwar opened a second research center and hired new staff in an attempt to avoid detection, according to federal prosecutors and investigators.
He even posed as a doctor to patients, and had to be ordered by the Washington state Department of Health to stop acting in a doctor’s capacity.
The conspiracy lasted from 2013 to 2018.
He kept the money flowing, receiving at least $5.6 million, by failing to report any adverse occurrences involving study participants, said prosecutors and investigators.
More than a dozen former employees testified before the jury that Anwar told them to help commit the fraud.
A court document states that the two companies, which had been located on North Columbia Center Boulevard, are no longer operating and have been administratively dissolved.
“Justifiably, Sami Anwar will be sitting behind bars for a very long time, thinking about his despicable actions that betrayed the American public and all the healthcare heroes who conduct lifesaving clinical trials every day,” Cam Strahm, the DEA’s acting special agent in charge, said in a release.
Federal prosecutors recommended a 30-year prison term, citing the circumstances of the fraud and Anwar’s obstruction of justice.
The probation officer, Cassandra Lerch, said a 27-year, three-month term was appropriate. That was at the top of the standard sentencing range for the charges.
She said Anwar “painted himself as a victim in all of this” when really he was so good at what he was doing that it took a long time for federal investigators to figure out the fraud.
Defense attorney Gary Metro asked Senior Judge Ed Shea to sentence Anwar somewhere within the range, which started at 21 years and 10 months.
Shea called the extent of the fraud astounding and, noting Anwar’s intimidation and retaliation tactics, said he was “a vengeful human being who sought to punish anyone who threatened (his) scheme.”
That included falsifying medical records and data to admit dozens of ineligible research subjects, falsifying research data like electrocardiograms and vital signs, and obtaining blood specimens from Anwar’s employees or stealing them from unwitting medical patients at the center.
The fraud also involved disposing of study medications and falsely recording them as having been dispensed as required, dangerously hoarding opioids intended for study subjects, and fabricating required subject diary entries, said prosecutors.
Anwar must pay $1.9 million in restitution to the fraud victims. And federal officials will attempt to recover up to $5.6 million from his assets. However, prosecutors said he had $650,000 in his personal accounts and a $1.2 million Tri-Cities home.