A Washington State emergency room nurse accused of infecting at least a dozen people with Hepatitis C has finally been charged with a crime, some five-and-a-half years after the allegations first surfaced.
Cora Weberg allegedly injected herself with narcotics meant for patients at Puyallup’s Good Samaritan Hospital in 2017 and 2018, then used the same syringe to administer the rest of the drug to those same patients. When those two patients, plus 10 others over the next three months, developed genetically similar strains of Hep C, Weberg quickly came under suspicion.
Weberg, 36, was the one hospital employee who had treated all of the infected patients, and a subsequent CDC report declared Weberg to have been “the only common epidemiological link” between them. Investigators found that Weberg had obtained drugs from the hospital’s automated dispensing system more frequently than other employees, and “admitted to diverting patient injectable narcotic drugs for personal use,” according to the CDC report. It also said Weberg herself tested positive for Hep C, contradicting her lawyer’s claims that she had tested negative.
Weberg, an RN, was arrested at the Canadian border on May 4, 2018, and released the next day. Police at the time asked local prosecutors to try her for second-degree assault, but she was never formally charged.
That all changed on Sept. 1, when federal prosecutors filed a bill of information charging Weberg with one count of tampering with consumer products. A combined arraignment and plea hearing was set for Sept. 5, according to court records reviewed by The Daily Beast; Weberg is expected to plead guilty to the tampering charge, which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison. It is unclear why prosecutors took so long to charge her with a crime.
Weberg acted “with reckless disregard for the risk that another person would be placed in danger of death and bodily injury, and under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to such risk,” the bill of information states. She “did knowingly and intentionally tamper with, and did attempt to tamper with… hospital medication vials of hydromorphone and fentanyl, substances controlled under Schedule II, Title 21, United States Code, Section 812.”
Bryan Hershman, Weberg’s attorney, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that he “feels terrible that these patients were apparently infected with Hep C.”
“That said, per CDC and DOH written memo, there is no genetic connection between Ms. Weberg and these patients,” Hershman wrote in an email, going on to present a scenario opposite to the one laid out by authorities. “Moreover, the crime to which she is entering a plea is purely a drug based charge, since, in the grips of her depression, she was diverting leftover ampules of drugs OUT OF THE DISPOSAL BIN, after they had been used on the patient.”
A probable cause statement submitted by police upon Weberg’s 2018 arrest said she confessed to stealing the drugs, and said she had a plan “to end her life” due to a fracturing relationship with a then-boyfriend.
As for a genetic link between Weberg’s Hep C and the infected patients, CDC investigators found all 12 cared for by Weberg in fact carried the same genetic strain. Those patients at Good Samaritan who contracted Hep C but were not cared for by Weberg “were infected by strains that were genetically distant” from one another, as well as the strain infecting those who had come into contact with Weberg. However, it was “not possible to assess the similarity between the HCV nucleotides in the infected patients and [Weberg]” because the concentrations of virus in Weberg’s blood were too low to compare accurately. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department also did not prove a conclusive genetic link between Weberg and the infected patients, officials said at the time.
Weberg was arrested in 2018, as she headed to Vancouver for a planned trip to Guam with her boyfriend and his mother. Police said they found texts on the boyfriend’s phone in which Weberg incriminated herself, allegedly admitting she stole drugs from Good Samaritan but saying there was no proof.
At a follow-up news conference, Weberg insisted she “never intentionally or unintentionally stuck anyone with a needle with which I’d previously stuck myself.”
After Weberg was taken into custody, her mother told the News Tribune, “She’s not an IV drug user. She doesn’t have sex for money. She’s in a monogamous relationship. She’s smart, she’s sympathetic. She’s got a heart of gold. She wouldn’t hurt a bug. I raised her. She’s a lot like me. You tell the truth. You tell the truth if it hurts.”
Following her arrest, Weberg lost or surrendered her nursing licenses in four states, according to public records. Hershman did not respond to additional questions from The Daily Beast about how Weberg has been supporting herself over the past half-decade.