SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – A Springfield, Mo., man who worked as a paramedic and EMT for several emergency medical transportation companies pleaded guilty in federal court today to stealing fentanyl and morphine and replacing the drugs with saline solution.
Zachary L. McCleary, 30, waived his right to a grand jury and pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David P. Rush to a federal information that charges him with two counts of tampering with a consumer product.
McCleary worked at several health care facilities as an emergency medical technician (EMT) between Sept. 25, 2015, and Feb. 21, 2018. During this time, McCleary worked for the Grove, Okla., Emergency Medical Service as an EMT, as a paramedic for Cox Health in Springfield, as a paramedic for Mercy Health in Carthage, Mo., and as a paramedic with Barton County, Mo., Emergency Medical Service.
According to today’s plea agreement, 18 separate adverse event reports were filed by individuals who received emergency medical services from Barton County EMS. In each of those reports, individuals advised that various opioid drugs were administered to provide pain relief, but due to McCleary’s theft of the drugs, and tampering by replacing the drugs with saline solution, each of these individuals did not receive the pain relief intended and experienced continued pain that resulted from McCleary’s reckless disregard to risk of serious bodily injury and harm to these patients.
In February 2018, agents with the Food and Drug Administration-Office of Criminal Investigations opened an investigation regarding the repeated theft and dilution of opioid drugs from various health care providers throughout southwest Missouri. Agents learned that while McCleary was employed as either an EMT or paramedic, various vials containing opioid-based drugs, including fentanyl, morphine, hydrocodone and ketamine, were stolen. Medical service officials advised agents that in some instances the vials were stolen and in other instances, the vials were tampered with so that the drugs were removed and saline was injected to the vials to make it appear that the drugs had not been stolen.
McCleary specifically pleaded guilty to tampering with vials that contained fentanyl and morphine sulfate, by removing those drugs from their vials and replacing them with saline solution, while working for Barton County Emergency Medical Service between Jan. 20 and Feb. 21, 2018. McCleary also specifically pleaded guilty to tampering with vials that contained fentanyl and morphine sulfate, by removing those drugs from their vials and replacing them with saline solution, while working for Cox Health from April 1 to May 19, 2017.
Under federal statutes, McCleary is subject to a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison without parole. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Carney. It was investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – Office of Criminal Investigations.