David Kwiatkowski entered the federal courtroom in shackles, wearing a Strafford County Department of Corrections jumpsuit. The 34-year defendant looked heavier than last July, when he was arrested on 14 federal charges, including tampering with a consumer product and obtaining a controlled substance by fraud.
When asked by the judge why he changed his plea, the clean shaven Kwiatkowski said, “Because I’m guilty.”
For nearly a decade, the former medical technician routinely stole syringes of the drug fentanyl, a powerful pain medication. He would inject himself, refill them with saline, and then reuse the needles on patients.
“There were many warning signs, many stop signs, there were many read lights along that road that were simply ignored by the defendant himself, a health care worker, and by other individuals and entities in the health care industry,” says U.S. Attorney John Kacavas.
The plea agreement released Monday details numerous instances of Kwiatkowksi being fired from hospital after hospital for stealing controlled substances. In his home state of Michigan, he was terminated four times in four years.
He was still able to find work around the country, though, as a so-called traveler, landing short-term contracts through a temp agency.
While it isn’t clear when Kwiatkowski first contracted Hepatitis C, the first known victim became infected in 2008 in Maryland. There were six more infections there, six in Kansas, and at least 32 at New Hampshire’s Exeter Hospital, where he was hired full time in October of 2011.
Kacavas says each of the victims was contacted about the terms of the plea agreement, which will put Kwiatkowski behind bars for between 30 and 40 years.
Not all were satisfied.
“You know, I understand their frustration and I understand victims who want nothing less than a life sentence or the death penalty. I get that. But our system does not allow for that,” says Kacavas.
One of the victims, a 50-year-old Rockingham County man who asked we not reveal his name, became infected at Exeter while undergoing treatment for a heart attack in March of last year. He remembers his interaction with the defendant.
“This guy was sweating so bad and his eyes were so red that I asked him, what was going on with him.”
The grandfather of two says he hasn’t been able to get back to work, and thinks Kwiatkowski deserves a life sentence for his crimes.
“Even though he is sentenced, it still goes on with the victims. It don’t [sic] end for us. We still have the pain, the misery, and a lot more things people don’t understand.”
Many of the victims will have a chance to speak at Kwiatkowksi’s formal sentencing later this year, when a judge could impose a sentence longer than 40 years. If that were to happen, though, the defendant could withdraw his guilty plea.
Investigators continue to look into other entities for possible wrong doing, including whether any co-workers were complicit.
There’s also civil cases pending against Exeter Hospital and the medical staffing firm filed by both infected patients and some of the thousands that had to undergo testing. Peter McGrath, a former federal prosecutor who is representing many of those clients, says the guilty plea should speed up the process.
“It makes them probably easier, and probably quicker. Now we can obtain the information and it will definitely help our clients, who have been the victims,” says McGrath.
Lawyers for David Kwiatkowki have not responded to requests for comment. Their client will return to the federal courthouse for sentencing in December.