A hospital pharmacist accused of intentionally trying to spoil more than 900 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine has agreed to plead guilty, according to federal authorities in Wisconsin.
Steven Brandenburg, 46, faces up to 20 years in prison — 10 for each count, according to a statement from the Department of Justice.
The Grafton man also faces up to $500,000 in fines for his alleged crime.
Brandenburg was arrested on Dec. 31, 2020, after losing his job at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton. He was fired after allegedly leaving 57 vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine out over two nights. All of the available COVID-19 vaccines require refrigeration.
Brandenburg allegedly believed the inoculations were unsafe, according to a probable cause statement. Brandenburg allegedly told investigators told he thought the vaccine was capable of altering its recipients' DNA. There is no scientific basis for such a belief, and multiple large-scale studies have shown that vaccines are safe.
He also allegedly told detectives he purposely left the doses out, hoping to taint them. He returned the vials to the hospital's refrigerators in the mornings.
"Before the full extent of Brandenburg's conduct was discovered, 57 people received doses of the vaccine from these vials," reads the DOJ statement, which quotes Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton as saying, "Tampering with vaccine doses in the midst of a global health crisis calls for a strong response, as reflected by the serious charges the United States has brought today."
"The Department of Justice will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to ensure the public receives safe and effective vaccines," Boynton continued.
Brandenburg was initially detained on recklessly endangering safety, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property charges. The tainted doses could have inoculated 500 individuals.
Grafton Police allege the vaccines Brandenburg allegedly tampered with are valued at between $8,550 and $11,400.
Brandenburg's attorneys were not available for comment.
WISN obtained divorce papers filed the day before Brandenburg's arrest by his wife, which allege Brandenburg maintains rental units where he is storing "bulk food and guns."
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The divorce filing also references a conversation the couple had when he dropped off a water purifier, a large bucket of powdered milk and two 30-day emergency food buckets to her and their children.
"He told me that if I didn't understand by now that he is right and the world is crashing down around us that I was in serious denial," she told the judge, adding Brandenburg thought "the government is planning cyber attacks and plans to shut down the power grid."
Multiple large-scale studies have found that vaccines are safe. There is no scientific link between vaccines and autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
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