MADISON, Wis. — A former Wisconsin pharmacist pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to charges that he tried to spoil dozens of vials of COVID-19 vaccine.

Federal prosecutors charged Steven Brandenburg, 46, of Grafton, in late January with two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products. He pleaded guilty to both counts during a video conference with U.S. District Judge Brett Ludwig in Milwaukee.


Steven Brandenburg Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office

The charges carry a maximum combined sentence of 20 years in prison and $500,000 in fines. The judge scheduled sentencing for June 8.

Prosecutors had asked Ludwig to jail Brandenburg until sentencing, arguing in a filing that he holds extremist views, including that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were faked and vaccines were “of the Devil.” They said he also held beliefs that the Earth is flat and brought guns in a suitcase to his job at Advocate Aurora Health.

Brandenburg also secretly substituted saline for flu vaccine that he was mandated to receive and persuaded several co-workers to secretly swap saline for their flu vaccine as well, the filing said.

Ludwig said that holding “crazy” views isn’t a basis for detaining someone, but ordered Brandenburg to submit to GPS monitoring until sentencing.


Police arrested Brandenburg on Dec. 31 as part of an investigation into how 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine were left for hours outside a refrigerator at Advocate Aurora Health in Grafton, a Milwaukee suburb, over Christmas. The vials contained enough vaccine to inoculate more than 500 people.

According to court filings, Brandenburg believed the Moderna vaccine was laced with microchips and would render people infertile. Detectives also wrote in state court filings that he believe the vaccine would mutate people’s DNA. There is no scientific evidence to support any of those contentions.

Nearly 60 workers at the facility received shots from the unrefrigerated vials before they were discarded. Prosecutors said efforts to determine whether those doses were inert or harmful continue.

Brandenburg also faces a misdemeanor count of attempting criminal damage to property in state court. He’s set to make his next court appearance in Ozaukee County in March.

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