Gov. Pete Ricketts' office has directed the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services to review the purchase agreement with HarrisPharma to determine if the state can get back any of the $54,400 it paid in advance for lethal injection drugs.
"It is unclear what recourse the state has, if any, to recover the funds at this time," Ricketts spokesman Taylor Gage said Friday.
A week ago, the governor announced he would delay executions until after Nebraskans vote on the death penalty repeal in November and that he won't make additional efforts to acquire lethal injection drugs while reviewing potential changes in the execution protocol.
In May, shortly before the Legislature repealed the death penalty and then overrode Ricketts' veto of the repeal, the Corrections Department ordered 1,000 1-gram vials of sodium thiopental at a cost of $25 per vial and 1,000 ampules of 2 mg/2 ml of pancuronium bromide at $26 per ampule. The total cost was $54,400, paid in advance - and with nothing more than a purchase order - to broker Chris Harris of Harris Pharma, a company in India that has sold sodium thiopental to Nebraska in the past under somewhat questionable circumstances.
The drugs were never delivered.
Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, chairman of the Legislature's Executive Board, said asking Harris to give the money back should be on the list of things to do, but he doubts collecting money from a broker with a somewhat shady reputation to begin with will be possible.
The Ricketts administration should never have tried to buy the drugs from Chris Harris, Krist said, and doing so shows poor judgment.
It's questionable whether the state has an internal process in place to recoup funds by holding the agency or its director accountable for a purchase and docking pay.
"I would say at this point it's time to move on," Krist said.
At the same time, he commended Ricketts for holding off on executions until there's a vote of the people.
Corrections Director Scott Frakes was questioned about the purchase of the drugs by senators this fall at a hearing of the Department of Corrections Special Investigative Committee.
Omaha Sen. Heath Mello said then that he was concerned the state had no way to recoup the tax money paid to Harris.
"I'm not trying to get you to say that you're never going to get the drugs," Mello told Frakes. "I know you're never going to get those drugs."
State Treasurer Don Stenberg said the state should make an effort to recover funds whenever possible.
Doing so would be up to the agency that requested the expenditure, in this case the Corrections Department, said treasurer's office spokeswoman Jana Langemach. How those officials do that would be up to them, she said.
A spokesman for an anti-death penalty group said Ricketts should use all means possible to get the state's money back immediately.
It's unfortunate that Nebraska did not use due diligence before doing business with HarrisPharma, especially given his shady past with our state, said Dan Parsons, spokesman for Nebraskans for Public Safety, which supports the Legislature's repeal of the death penalty.
But the fact remains, he said, that no matter where the state tries to get the drugs, the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and now Nebraska's U.S. Attorney Deborah Gilg have all said they are illegal and cannot enter the country, period.
"Nebraskans expect more," Parsons said. "The family members of the victims deserve more."
Source: Lincoln Journal Star, December 12, 2015
Nebraska looking to recoup $54,400 spent on execution drugs
Ricketts spokesman Taylor Gage said the governor has directed Nebraska's corrections department to review its purchase agreement with Harris Pharma, a 1-man company based in India.
Ricketts announced last week that the state would stop trying to obtain the drugs until after a statewide vote on capital punishment next November. State officials have struggled to import them because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said they can't do so legally.
"It is unclear what recourse the state has, if any, to recover the funds at this time," Gage said.
Lawmakers abolished capital punishment in May over Ricketts' veto, but a statewide petition drive partially financed by the governor gathered enough signatures to suspend that decision and put the issue on the ballot.
Chris Harris, who runs Harris Pharma, sold drugs to the state in 2010, but the manufacturer later accused him of misrepresenting how he intended to use them. Legal challenges prevented the state from using that batch before it expired. Harris did not immediately respond to an email Friday morning.
An attempt to ship the newest batch of drugs in August via FedEx was thwarted because the transport company said it lacked necessary paperwork for international shipping.
Nebraska prison officials also tried but failed in October to buy 1 of the required drugs, pancuronium bromide, from a Mississippi-based pharmaceutical company. The order was canceled a day later, after the company said the product wasn't available.
Dawn-Renee Smith, a Nebraska Department of Correctional Services spokeswoman, said the agency planned to review its purchase agreement for the drugs at Ricketts' request.
Nebraska hasn't executed an inmate since 1997, when it used the electric chair, and has never carried one out with lethal injection drugs. The state lacks 2 of the 3 drugs required in its execution protocol. Nebraska currently has 10 men on death row.
Some lawmakers said they doubt the state will get its money back.
"When you do business with people who don't have good reputations, you shouldn't expect to be refunded," Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha said Friday.
Krist, who voted to repeal the death penalty, said he was pleased Ricketts decided not to pursue the execution drugs until after the election.
Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, said during a hearing last month that he was concerned state officials were able to send a check to Harris without having a way to recoup the money. Mello, who supported the death penalty repeal, said he was looking into the state's policies to try to prevent similar losses in the future.
Ricketts has said his administration is also working with Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson and correctional services director Scott Frakes to look at changing the state's lethal injection protocol.
Source: Associated Press, December 11, 2015