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Press Release

Hospital Pharmacist Sentenced for Attempt to Spoil Hundreds of COVID Vaccine Doses

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Wisconsin

Acting United States Attorney Richard G. Frohling of the Eastern District of Wisconsin announced that on June 8, 2021, Steven R. Brandenburg (age: 46) of Grafton, Wisconsin, was sentenced to 36 months’ imprisonment for tampering with COVID vaccine doses at the hospital at which he worked. Brandenburg will also be required to spend three years on supervised release following his prison sentence and was ordered to pay approximately $83,800 in restitution to the hospital.

Brandenburg pleaded guilty on February 9, 2021, to two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products with reckless disregard for the risk that another person would be placed in danger of death or bodily injury. 

According to court documents, Brandenburg purposefully removed a box of COVID-19 vaccine vials manufactured by Moderna—which must be stored at specific cold temperatures to remain viable—from a hospital refrigeration unit during two successive overnight shifts in late December 2020. According to his plea agreement, Brandenburg stated that he was skeptical of vaccines in general and the Moderna vaccine specifically. Court documents indicate that Brandenburg had communicated his beliefs about vaccines to his co-workers for at least the past two years.

Brandenburg acknowledged that after leaving the vaccines out for several hours each night, he returned the vaccines to the refrigerator to be used in the hospital’s vaccine clinic the following day. Before the full extent of Brandenburg’s conduct was discovered, 57 people received doses of the vaccine from these vials.

“The purposeful attempt to spoil vaccine doses during a national public health emergency is a serious crime,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice will continue working with its law enforcement partners to safeguard these life-saving vaccines.”

“Ensuring access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines is critical to the well-being of everyone in our communities,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Frohling. “The Department of Justice is committed to working with its federal, state, and local partners to hold individuals who seek to tamper with these vaccines fully accountable. Today’s sentence was the direct result of that shared commitment and the underlying hard work and collaborative efforts of all involved in the investigation and prosecution of Mr. Brandenburg.”

“The FBI, together with our local law enforcement and private sector partners, are committed to upholding laws designed to protect our health care system from harm. By illegally tampering with these doses, Brandenburg threatened the health and safety of an entire community,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge, Robert Hughes. “Today’s sentencing sends a clear message to individuals who intentionally violate these laws that they will be vigorously prosecuted.”

The FDA has ensured that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine meets the agency’s rigorous standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality. Those who knowingly tamper with this vaccine place American patients’ health at risk,” said FDA Assistant Commissioner for Criminal Investigations Catherine A. Hermsen. “Today’s announcement should serve as a reminder that this kind of illicit tampering activity will not be tolerated.”

This matter was investigated by the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations, the Milwaukee Field Office of the FBI, and the Village of Grafton Police Department.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin C. Knight of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, and Senior Litigation Counsel Ross S. Goldstein and Trial Attorney Rachel Baron of the Department of Justice Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch prosecuted the case.


For further information contact:

Public Information Officer

(414) 297-1700

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Updated June 8, 2021