Owner of firm linked to deadly meningitis outbreak takes Fifth before Congress

(CNN) -- The owner of a company linked to a deadly fungal meningitis outbreak cited his constitutional right to remain silent Wednesday, November 14th before a congressional subcommittee investigating the firm and 32 deaths nationwide.

Barry Cadden, owner and director of the New England Compounding Center, was questioned by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Florida, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Cadden was subpoenaed to appear before the body, his spokesman said.

"Let me be clear, Mr. Cadden," Stearns said. "Again, are you refusing to answer the questions on the basis of the protections afforded to you under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution?"

"Under the advice of counsel, I respectfully decline to answer on the basis of my constitutional rights and privileges," Cadden said.

Stearns: "Will you invoke your Fifth Amendment rights in response to all questions today?"

Cadden: "Yes."

Stearns then excused Cadden and advised him the subcommittee may recall him.

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman," Cadden said.

The subcommittee is investigating what went wrong at the compounding company and why it was able to continue to function despite a history of problems.

The fungal meningitis outbreak has killed 32 people in seven states as of Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on its website. It also reports of a total of 438 cases linked to the outbreak.

Patients contracted the deadly fungal meningitis after being injected in their spines with a contaminated preservative-free steroid called methylprednisolone acetate. The steroid is used to treat pain and inflammation.

The New England Compounding Center voluntarily recalled three lots.

Meanwhile, federal authorities have launched a criminal investigation into the practices at the Framingham-based company, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has said.

In addition, the state Board of Registration in Pharmacy has voted to revoke permanently the company's license to operate in Massachusetts as well as the licenses of the company's three principal pharmacists, Patrick said.