When states ran out of execution drugs, they started paying tens of thousands of dollars to Chris Harris, a salesman in India with no pharmaceutical background.
Eight thousand miles from the execution chamber at the Nebraska State Penitentiary is Salt Lake City — a planned satellite town in Kolkata, the capital city of India’s West Bengal state. It’s a modern mecca of swanky office complexes, colleges, shopping malls, and restaurants. Here, on the eighth floor of a plush glass building overlooking a lake, is an office where Nebraska’s lethal injection drug supplier says he makes his drugs.
A laminated paper sign stuck on the door of room 818 reads “Harris Pharma – manufacturer and distribution.” The office, with powder-blue walls and a frosted glass facade, is one of 61 spaces on the floor rented out to various companies.
This is the facility in India where a man named Chris Harris, a salesman without a pharmaceutical background, claims his manufacturing and distribution business is based. He has sold thousands of vials of execution drugs for corrections officials in the U.S. who are desperate to find drugs to carry out the death penalty.
An employee who works at the facility, however, said the office is not being used to make drugs.
Saurav Bose, a customer relations officer at the office rental company who has met Harris twice since he started working here a few months ago, said Harris did not manufacture drugs in this rented office.
Left: The building in Salt Lake City in India. Right: The office Harris rents. Tasneem Nashrulla
Harris’s office, which was shut on a Tuesday morning when a reporter from BuzzFeed News visited, is much like the other ready-to-use, standardized workspaces available to rent by Regus — an international firm operating in 900 cities across the world, including the more well-known Salt Lake City in Utah. It appeared highly unlikely that the rented office would accommodate laboratory equipment required to manufacture pharmaceutical drugs.
“He comes only two to three times in a month,” Bose said, adding that most of his communication with Harris was limited to email. Bose, who described Harris as being “fickle” with his visits to the office, said he rarely had any clients or other people in the office.
BuzzFeed News identified several such inconsistencies after reviewing thousands of pages of court records, emails, and invoices; interviewing his past business partners; and visiting the locations in India from which Harris claims to run his business.
Chris Harris Facebook
BuzzFeed News spent more than four months trying to talk to Harris over emails, via phone calls and during a visit to his office in India. Each time, Harris refused to talk.
“Quote me on this. I don’t speak to reporters as they always say what is not true,” Harris told BuzzFeed News when first contacted for comment in June.
After months of reporting on his sale to Nebraska, Harris again declined to talk with BuzzFeed News in September, writing, “Do and say what you want. But I will never give a reporter 2 min of my time. As all print what they want. Not the true story. They need a scandal to get sales and keep they jobs.”
BuzzFeed News has been able to confirm four times that Harris sold execution drugs illegally to four death penalty states, and documents indicate there is likely a fifth. His sales follow a typical script: The legal issues are fixed this time, don’t worry about it. Other states are buying it, too. You aren’t the only one. You just need to make it a “minimum order” to make it worth the while. Payment in advance.
The documents show little effort by states to investigate Harris’s qualifications or the legalities of importing drugs.
Harris has gotten states to pay tens of thousands of dollars for his drugs, but each time, after concerns were raised over the legality of the purchase, the drugs have gone unused.
Somehow, states are still falling for it.
Nebraska Bought 300 Executions’ Worth Of Illegal Execution Drugs From A Foreign Supplier
The FDA says it will seize Nebraska’s drugs when they arrive from India. But the seller says he’s sold to “a few” other states as well.
The seller behind Nebraska’s illegal execution drug shipment says Nebraska isn’t the only state to have bought drugs from him.
Nebraska announced in May that it had purchased drugs from HarrisPharma, a small distributor in India run by a man named Chris Harris, although Nebraska admitted that the drugs are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Harris has sold execution drugs in the past, but each time the drugs have gone unused after questions were raised over the legality of the drug deal.
This time, an FDA spokesperson indicated in a statement to BuzzFeed News that the agency will seize Nebraska’s shipment.
But as part of his sales pitch to Nebraska, Harris tells employees several times that other states are also buying from him, according to 140 pages of emails and invoices obtained by BuzzFeed News.
Nebraska Department of Correctional Services
A day later, Harris approached another Corrections employee.