Welden agrees to plea deal in abortion pill case, implicates pharmacy worker

John Welden agrees to plead guilty to lesser charges in the abortion pill case.
Published September 6 2013
Updated September 7 2013

TAMPA — John Andrew Welden, the Tampa man accused of surreptitiously giving his pregnant ex-girlfriend pills to cause a miscarriage, has agreed to plead guilty Monday to product tampering and mail fraud.

A plea agreement filed Friday recommends that U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara sentence Welden to 13 years and 8 months, preferably at a low-security federal prison camp.

He signed the agreement, as did his attorney and prosecutors.

The document broke new ground calling an employee of Sunlake Pharmacy in Lutz an "unidentified co-conspirator," alleging that person had a role in a scheme that led victim Remee Jo Lee to take the drug Cytotec.

The unnamed employee created a fraudulent patient profile for Lee and then gave Welden an empty pill bottle and a prescription label with Lee's name on it, the record states.

"At the time the (employee) was preparing the false and fraudulent prescription label, the (employee) was also in the process of filling the prescription for Cytotec for the defendant," according to the document.

Owners of Sunlake Pharmacy did not respond to interview requests from the Tampa Bay Times. It's unclear whether additional charges are expected. The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to elaborate on the court filings.

Barring a weekend change of heart, Welden will appear before Judge Lazzara at 10:30 a.m. Monday to change his plea from not guilty to guilty.

The next step would typically be a presentencing investigation, followed by a sentencing hearing. Lazzara is not bound by the plea agreement, nor by the attorneys' recommendations.

Welden, 28, faced life in prison if convicted of murder under the 2004 Unborn Victims of Violence Act. The embryo, at nearly 7 weeks, measured 8.26 millimeters (about one-third of an inch), the record stated.

He was indicted by a grand jury in May, but prosecutors reduced the charges on Friday, dropping murder and adding mail fraud.

Mail fraud? The pills arrived by Federal Express after the pharmacy employee ordered them on Welden's behalf from a Michigan company.

Welden called the pharmacy to request the pills March 27, a day before taking Lee to see his gynecologist father, and picked them up with a forged prescription on March 29, the record states.

Welden admits scratching the labels off the pills that day and adding the name of a common antibiotic to the pill bottle and delivering them to Lee.

Then, shortly before 4 p.m., she took one pill and "began feeling severe pain and cramps," the record states.

On March 31, she went to Tampa General Hospital, where she was told the unborn child was dead.

Lee's miscarriage remains central to the case.

The sentencing recommendation is built in part on product tampering described as "tantamount to attempted murder" and on the degree of bodily injury suffered.

And eight pages of the 25-page plea agreement memorialize Welden's admitted actions.

The statement of facts ends by saying that he "acknowledges for sentencing purposes . . . that he intentionally intended to kill and intentionally attempted to kill the unborn child in utero."

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Patty Ryan can be reached at pryan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3382.