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Ex-cellmate in abortion pill case tried to help victim in her quest for damages

TAMPA — Carl Morgan ran afoul of a probation officer in 2014 and landed in a Louisiana federal prison, where he met a man from Florida.

The two shared a cell and conversations. About six months later, Morgan left to go to a halfway house and John Andrew Welden continued his 13-year sentence for a crime Tampa knows as the abortion pill case.

"Andy, boy," Morgan recalls saying, "I'm gonna miss you."

Now both are potential witnesses in a lawsuit that targets Welden's parents, among others.

Welden was on a path to medical school in 2013 when, at age 28, he used his doctor father's prescription pad and phony labels to dupe a pregnant ex-girlfriend into taking a drug that causes miscarriages, he admitted in court. She lost a nearly seven-week embryo.

BACKGROUND: Past pain comes to bear in Tampa abortion pill case

But did Welden act alone? It is the underlying question in a civil lawsuit filed by victim Remee Jo Lee against Welden's parents and associates of a now-closed Lutz pharmacy that dispensed the drug Cytotec. The five-year-old action found new life this summer when a judge ruled that the son, who goes by Andrew, can no longer assert his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

He could be questioned under oath at a video deposition as soon as Thursday, though Lee's attorney has sought a delay.

Such proceedings are held behind closed doors, but public court records list questions that lawyers intend to ask Welden, offering a glimpse of the drama about to unfold.

Among them are these two, from Lee attorney Web Brennan:

"Do you know Carl Morgan?"

"Did you tell Carl Morgan that your parents and you planned this together?"

•••

The indictment came in May 2013. Before long, it brought anti-abortion protesters to the federal courthouse in downtown Tampa, and the movement adopted Lee as one of its flag-bearers, leading her to Tallahassee to push for protections for the unborn.

Welden would come to court with private guards hired by his father to ensure he didn't flee. It was a bail requirement. Prosecutors saw Welden as a flight risk because he faced life in prison if convicted of causing a death under the 2004 Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

He had met Lee at a bikini bar during a break from his relationship with a previous girlfriend. When Lee became pregnant, he took her to his family's fertility clinic in Lutz for a sonogram. His father, Dr. Stephen Welden, is an obstetrician-gynecologist, and stepmother Lenora Welden is a nurse practitioner. Andrew Welden had worked at the family's weight loss clinic in the same office complex when not attending classes at the University of South Florida.

Dr. Welden examined Lee, and his wife drew the young woman's blood, records show. Lee later told detectives she overheard the stepmother make an offer to the doctor's son: "Let me know if you still need those pills." The Weldens, through an attorney, have previously denied that claim.

A day after the clinic visit, Andrew Welden visited Lee with a bottle of pills labeled amoxicillin, a common antibiotic, court records show. He told her his father said she had an infection. But the bottle instead contained Cytotec, and the cramps came hard and fast.

He admitted to product tampering and mail fraud and was sentenced to 13 years and eight months in prison, starting at Oakdale Federal Correctional Institution in Louisiana.

That's where he met Morgan.

•••

Morgan, now 49, doesn't believe in abortion, he says. When he found out about Welden's crime, he considered having nothing to do with him. It didn't last.

"He's got a heart. He's not a bad dude," Morgan said in an interview last week with the Tampa Bay Times. "He shouldn't be in prison. He should be in medical school."

As Welden opened up, Morgan asked questions. Why take the life of an unborn human? Why not just pay child support? That's what he would have done, Morgan said.

"My family said it wasn't an option," he recalls Welden telling him.

Morgan, whose conviction was for money laundering, came away with what he calls the "true story" about Lee's miscarriage. He speaks harshly of Welden's parents. He claims to know who helped Welden deceive Lee by providing a pill label, based on his conversations with Welden.

Ronald Bush, who represents Dr. Welden and Lenora Welden in the lawsuit, said he could not comment on ongoing litigation.

After Morgan was released, he kept in touch with his former cellmate by phone and prison e-mail.

He learned that Lee was suing Welden's parents. In Morgan's view, the woman was entitled to compensation. If she wanted to keep her baby, she had a right to keep it, he said.

"I took it upon myself personally to write a letter to the lawyer," he said.

With nothing to gain, he shared what he had learned.

•••

Morgan's name comes up more than 20 times in questions that attorneys submitted to the judge in advance of Welden's expected deposition.

Only some Morgan-related questions are from Lee's attorney. Bush, the attorney for Dr. Welden and his wife, submitted many of them.

"Did you ever tell Carl Morgan your parents were involved in obtaining the prescription for Cytotec?" reads one query on behalf of the parents. "If yes, why did you tell him? If yes, what did you say was the extent of your parents' involvement?"'

Hundreds of questions have been submitted, some on behalf of pharmacy operator Thomas Faust, entities tied to his former Sunlake Pharmacy and several people employed by the pharmacy at the time of the incident.

They are defendants in the lawsuit. Welden is not.

His attorney, Joseph Kinman Jr., tried unsuccessfully in July to keep Welden from having to submit to the coming deposition.

He told a judge that Welden had invoked the Fifth Amendment at prior depositions because he "is currently exposed to possible criminal charges of conspiracy in the State of Florida" over the Lee matter.

The judge in the civil case, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Richard A. Nielsen, responded that the statute of limitations on Welden's conduct from March 2013 had expired.

Last month, Nielsen laid out the terms for a Welden deposition. In addition to barring a Fifth Amendment claim, the judge said Welden can't submit written answers or read aloud from them in court.

Lee's attorney requested the last restriction.

He told the judge he wanted to "test the veracity" of Welden's answers "and avoid self-serving written responses in light of potential organized conspiracy between John Andrew Welden and his parents."

With gain time for good behavior, Welden could be released in 2025. He is now at a federal prison in Jesup, Ga.

Morgan said Welden is no longer accepting his emails.

Contact Patty Ryan at pryan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3382.

PAST COVERAGE: Tampa doctor's son accused of killing unborn child

GUILTY PLEA: John Andrew Welden pleads guilty in Tampa abortion pill case

SENTENCING: Welden gets 13 years, 8 months in abortion pill case

LAWSUIT: As doctor's son serves time, a fight for damages gains steam

LAWSUIT: Parents in 2013 abortion pill case pulled into victim's civil claim

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