Eli Lilly Whistleblower Reprises Role in AstraZeneca Case
By Joe Palazzolo | April 27, 2010 6:42 pm

Two of the world’s leading drug makers have this in common: They both made the mistake of hiring James Wetta as a sales representative.

Their misfortune has been taxpayers’ gain. A two-time whistleblower, Wetta, 46, played a key role in the Justice Department’s eye-popping settlement agreements with Eli Lilly & Co in January 2009 and AstraZeneca PLC on Tuesday.

Combined, the companies agreed to pay a total of $1.9 billion after investigations into their promotion of drugs for off-label uses, or uses not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Wetta, 46, left both companies under a cloud, after complaining of shady sales tactics. He filed a complaint against Eli Lily after resigning in 2002 and was hired by AstraZeneca in a matter of months. He later filed a complaint against the U.K.-based drug maker in 2004, while the investigation of Eli Lilly unfolded behind the scenes.

One of his lawyers, Stephen Sheller, remembers getting a call from Wetta after he had moved to AstraZeneca. “He said, ‘Steve, I can’t believe it. It’s going on here, too.’”

Sheller admitted he was dubious. “We went round and round, and I finally said, ‘Let me get more information.’ It turned out he was right.”

For a time after Wetta was fired from AstraZeneca in 2005, he and his family lived hand-to-mouth as he tried to find work. Now he’s a millionaire, living in Reno, Nev.

Eli Lilly pleaded guilty to criminal charge of misbranding its antipsychotic Zyprexa and paid a criminal fine of $515 million, the largest ever imposed. The company paid an additional $800 million as part of a civil settlement with states and the federal government.

Under the False Claims Act’s quit tam provision, Wetta shared a $100 million cut with five other whistleblowers. (His lawyers declined to disclose his share.)

On Tuesday, the Justice Department announced that AstraZeneca PLC would pay $520 million to resolve allegations it improperly marketed the antipsychotic Seroquel. (The company denies the allegations.) Wetta stands to earn $45 million, though an undisclosed amount will go to the another whistleblower.

His lawyers at Duane Morris LLP and Sheller, Ludwig & Badey PC in Philadelphia, where the qui tam actions were filed, declined requests to interview Wetta.

Dow Jones has more on Wetta here.

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2 Comments

  1. [...] at the site Main Justice, another Wetta lawyer named Stephen Sheller, remembers the call he got from Wetta after he joined AstraZeneca. "Steve, I can't believe it. It's going on here, too," Sheller recalls [...]

  2. DannyHaszard says:

    Eli Lilly has made 40 billion on 10 dollar a pill Zyprexa and it was way oversold and caused diabetes and in some cases sudden death. Zyprexa was pushed by Lilly Drug Reps.

    They called it the “Five at Five” (5 mg at 5 pm to keep nursing home patients subdued and sleepy) and “VIVA ZYPREXA” (Zyprexa for everybody) campaigns to off label market Eli Lilly Zyprexa as a fix for unapproved usage.I am a living example of Zyprexa gone/done wrong was given it 1996-2000 off-label for PTSD got sudden high blood sugar A1C 14.7 in January 2000.The stuff was worthless for my condition PTSD and cost me thousands in co-pays gave me diabetes.

    Daniel Haszard Zyprexa whistle-blower http://www.zyprexa-victims.com