Man who infected 46 patients with hepatitis C denied release

CONCORD, N.H. — A former traveling medical technician who stole drugs and infected more than 40 patients with hepatitis C will remain in prison after a judge called his request for compassionate release “the least meritorious” he’d ever seen.

David Kwiatkowski was sentenced in 2013 to 39 years in prison for stealing painkillers and replacing them with saline-filled syringes tainted with his blood. Despite being fired numerous times over drug allegations, he had worked as a cardiac technologist in 18 hospitals in seven states before being hired in New Hampshire in 2011.

After his arrest in 2012, 46 people in four states were diagnosed with the same strain of the hepatitis C virus he carries, including one who died in Kansas.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that attacks the liver. In all, 32 patients were infected in New Hampshire, seven in Maryland, six in Kansas and one in Pennsylvania. Kwiatkowski also worked in Michigan, New York, Arizona and Georgia.

In December, Kwiatkowski filed a motion asking to be released to home confinement because his medical issues, including Hepatitis C and Crohn’s disease, put him at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 and for severe illness due to his immunocompromised state. At the time, 15% of the inmates at his Florida federal prison complex had been infected, but by the time a judge heard his case Thursday, there were no infections, according to Acting U.S. Attorney John Farley.

Even if Kwiatkowski was at high risk of infection, releasing him fewer than nine years into his sentence would be wrong, he argued. Farley said Kwiatkwoski’s 2013 sentencing hearing was the most emotionally charged he’s witnessed in 25 years as a prosecutor, as victim after victim explained “how their lives were destroyed.”

And victims contacted recently ahead of Thursday’s hearing were deeply troubled by the idea that someone who gave them a long-term, potentially deadly disease would seek early release based on his own medical concerns, he said.

If Kwiatkowski were released, “the message to the victims, the message to the community, the message to the health care system would be very shocking,” he said.

U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Laplante agreed. While he has granted several compassionate release requests, those inmates were far sicker than Kwiatkowski, he said. And even if the medical situations were the same, he said he still would’ve denied the request.

“For these extra cruel and callous crimes, the relief requested would not be justice,” he said. “I think sentencing relief this early in the sentence, under these circumstances … would actually undermine respect for the law in the community.”

Kwiatkowski appeared to anticipate that response.

“Chances are, I’ll do all my time,” he said. “I’m prepared for that, but I would like to show the court I am a new man.”

Had he been released, Kwiatkowski planned to live with the family of a Rochester, New Hampshire, woman who befriended him before his guilty plea when she visited him in jail as a mental health counselor. Linda Baillargeon called Kwiatkowski a “really fine young man” who has become a member of her family.

“We saw something very restorable in David,” she said. “There was something very uniquely special about him that allowed me to feel safe.”

At his sentencing hearing, Kwiatkowski apologized to his victims, saying his crime was caused by an addiction to painkillers and alcohol. He later claimed he pleaded guilty under extreme emotional distress, that his mental state should have been in question for agreeing to the deal and that his sentence should have been much lower.

Linda Ficken, who traveled to New Hampshire for the sentencing, contracted hepatitis C from Kwiatkowski at Hayes Medical Center in Kansas in 2011 and has since recovered.

She said Thursday she was glad the judge denied the release request, particularly since prosecutors said he had been disciplined in prison for misusing authorized medication. Prosecutors described the incident as “drug diversion” but Kwiatkowski told the judge he only set aside doses of one of his prescriptions.

“In light of that, keep his a— in prison,” Ficken, 79, said in a phone interview. “I don’t have any doubt at all that if he got out, he would find some way to do the same thing.”