When the Senate finally passed its $1.5 trillion spending bill on Friday, sacrificing critical funding for pandemic control measures like coronavirus testing and popular climate initiatives like the Civilian Climate Corps, Sen. Joe Manchin was not left empty-handed. Despite serving as the lead obstructionist to President Joe Biden’s congressional spending plan, the West Virginia Democrat managed to secure $2.1 million for biomedical and behavioral research centers at West Virginia University — handing a healthy slice of the federal package to his daughter’s alma mater. “Many of the West Virginia priorities that I fought for,” he said in a press release, “are included in this omnibus legislation.”
While Manchin worked in Washington to secure funding for pet projects, his daughter was narrowly avoiding cross-examination. Also on Friday, a Kansas judge granted preliminary approval to a settlement in which the drug manufacturer Viatris, formerly known as Mylan, agreed to pay $264 million for antitrust violations pertaining to the marketing and sales of epinephrine, the lifesaving medication it uses to make EpiPens. With a final hearing set for July, the deal puts Heather Bresch, Manchin’s daughter and Mylan’s former CEO, on track to dodge legal repercussion from a yearslong saga involving allegations of racketeering, price fixing, and the anti-competitive sale of EpiPens — whose price jumped by nearly $550 under Mylan’s watch.
Bresch led an embittered defense against allegations that she was directly responsible for inflating the cost of epinephrine, testifying before Congress in 2016 to defend her role in the price hikes. Legal documents reviewed by The Intercept showed that Bresch played a direct part in the decision to force consumers to purchase dual packs of EpiPens, a practice that necessarily inflated the product’s price.
In 2021, U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree greenlighted a trial for antitrust claims while rejecting a motion by the defense to remove Bresch from the defense roster. “Like the old idiom that if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and swims like a duck, [it’s] probably a duck; so too if one is named as a defendant, deposed as a defendant, and alleged to be liable as a defendant, well, she’s a defendant,” said Paul Geller, attorney for the plaintiffs, in a statement. “We look forward to seeing Ms. Bresch in Kansas.” But the settlement, pending final approval, means that Bresch will never have her day in court.
Manchin and Bresch did not respond to The Intercept’s requests for comment.
Not long after Bresch left Mylan, the company’s plant in Morgantown, West Virginia, closed down. At what was then the largest generic pharmaceutical plant in the country, 1,400 employees represented by United Steelworkers lost their jobs — just months after Bresch, who had overseen the plant, walked away with a $30 million payout.
But the assault on Mylan workers began in earnest in 2009, when founder Mike Puskar stepped down as chair of the board to make way for a new team of executives: CEO Robert Coury, Executive Vice President Rajiv Malik, and Chief Operating Officer Bresch, a rising star at Mylan. When she entered into her COO position two years prior, the company put out a press release to announce the new role for Bresch, daughter of then-Gov. Manchin, claiming that she had obtained an executive master’s degree from West Virginia University. But when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called the school to verify it, the registrar told the paper that Bresch had never received the degree. The university began offering different stories to explain the discrepancy: a record-keeping error, a failure to pay the required graduation fee, and a breakdown of credit transfers, always maintaining that she had in fact earned her MBA.
As the school’s story crumbled, it launched an internal investigation into the origins of Bresch’s degree. Manchin, who had oversight of the university as governor, said that he would abide by whatever decision the board made.
When the investigatory panel concluded that administrators had fabricated her MBA, West Virginia University President Michael Garrison and other senior officials ultimately resigned. Her MBA was rescinded, but Bresch kept her Mylan job. (She does hold a B.A. from the university.) She was appointed president in 2009, joined the board of directors in 2011, and assumed control as CEO in 2012. Bresch’s father, meanwhile, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010 and named her brother, Joe Manchin IV, to run his coal empire.
While Bresch climbed the ranks as a pharmaceutical executive and her father rose between branches of government, another member of the Manchin clan was organizing on the Mylan factory floor. Manchin’s first cousin, Joseph Gouzd, started at Mylan in 1999, working a union job operating a pill coater and eventually becoming union president in 2018.
This put him directly at odds with Bresch. As Vanity Fair documented in July, the climate for Mylan’s factory workers changed soon after the C-suite shake-up.
“The hallmarks of community-oriented management, such as the Christmas bonuses and Thanksgiving turkeys, would soon vanish,” wrote Katherine Eban. “According to one employee, when union members—who had been engaged in collective bargaining—raised the Christmas bonuses with Bresch at a company-wide meeting in the Morgantown plant’s cafeteria in December 2011, she replied, ‘What do you prefer, a Christmas bonus or a job?’ By 2015, [Bresch’s] annual compensation had risen more than 600%, to nearly $19 million.”
“We ran a facility in Morgantown that was the cash cow to everything Puskar spun off,” Gouzd told The Intercept. “And then when the cash cow was slaughtered, everything disappeared.”
In 2020, the Pfizer-owned Upjohn merged with Mylan under the new name Viatras Inc., and Mylan’s Morgantown jobs were shipped overseas to India. Workers were provided two weeks of severance and health care coverage for each year worked, while Bresch left with her $30 million payout. Just before the Christmas holiday that year, Mylan announced it would shut down the plant.
“I was in that plant for decades, and they gave me no inkling of what was going on with the closure,” Gouzd said. “It’s safe to say there’s not an exchange of Christmas cards with the Manchins, if you know what I mean. Joe Manchin is my first cousin; Heather Bresch is my second cousin. And I’ll tell you, they say you can’t choose your family, and I didn’t choose them either.”
As the company doled out tens of millions of dollars in bonuses to Bresch and other senior executives, workers fought to keep the plant open. In the spring of 2021, they unsuccessfully urged the Biden administration to support the facility using federal emergency authorities under the Defense Production Act.
“My son was dying of leukemia when the plant was closing. He died in June. I would leave that hospital after 12-hour days and stop by the union local to give them a little hope, to show my face, because they were scared, and they were tired,” Danielle Walker, a West Virginia state delegate who fought to keep the Mylan plant open, told The Intercept. “Meanwhile, Joe Manchin couldn’t be bothered to make a call, to jet down, to do anything.” In the end, he offered the workers only a short meeting.
Just days before the plant closed, Manchin sent a letter to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency urging an expedited review to keep its doors open. CISA confirmed the plant as critical infrastructure, granting the government negotiating authority to maintain its use, but as many in Morgantown report, the designation was too little, too late.
“That’s like buying tires for a car you sold a week ago,” Johanna Puskar, daughter of Mylan founder Mike Puskar, told The Intercept.
“Joe Manchin couldn’t be bothered to make a call, to jet down, to do anything.”
The closure sent a shockwave through Morgantown, cradled in the southernmost swath of the Rust Belt. A study commissioned by the Democracy Collaborative found that the closure will result in a domino effect across Monongalia County, costing West Virginia 4,642 jobs and a negative economic impact of over $2.5 billion. At the same time, local utility providers have jacked up rates to make up for the lost revenue generated by the plant, with double-digit increases for water, sewage, and stormwater affecting a broad swath of Morgantown residents. With few job prospects and a clock running out on severance benefits, many former employees have nowhere left to turn.
“You know what’s happening to those workers?” Walker said. “They are losing all hope. Just this week, a former Mylan employee committed suicide,” she said late in December, when a longtime Mylan worker killed himself. While claimants in the suit against Mylan stand to receive millions in settlement funds, the workers who spent their lives in the Mylan plant are still looking for answers.
“How could you be a representative of one of the poorest states, working for the people of West Virginia, have a daughter who is an executive of this company, and all of a sudden she resigns, and 30 days later, abruptly there is a plant closure notification?” said Gouzd. “Tell me, how the hell does that work?”
More than four decades earlier, on Memorial Day weekend of 1976, Joe Manchin’s speedboat was whipping through the Tygart Valley River just south of Fairmont, West Virginia. At the helm was Joe’s brother Roch “Rock” Manchin, towing his first cousin Joseph Gouzd in his wake as he clung to an inner tube. The carefree holiday weekend took a dark turn as Rock accelerated and spun the boat around, careening his cargo into a moored boat. In the crash that ensued, Gouzd pinched his femoral nerve, leaving his right leg disabled for life.
Rock’s brother Joe wasn’t on board at the time, but the boat was insured in his name, and Gouzd threatened to take him to court for damages. Then 28 years old, Joe treated his cousin to a ride on his prop plane, where the rising politician attempted to smooth things over, Gouzd told The Intercept.
“He had a little Cessna; he took me for a plane ride with my dad with the hopes of me not bringing any action against him,” Gouzd said. The air show proved ineffective, and Gouzd decided to bring charges against the future senator for damages. Two other people who knew Gouzd and the Manchins confirmed Gouzd’s account. Joe and Roch Manchin did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment.
In 2020, more than 40 years after Gouzd’s accident, Joe Manchin was living out of his house boat Almost Heaven in Washington, D.C, and Gouzd was once again facing off with his cousin. He was present as the leader of the union when Manchin met with Mylan workers, telling them: “It sounds like they’ve reached a corporate decision. There is very little I can do.” Bresch walked away with her payout, and Manchin has denied making this comment, though he has not offered an alternate account.
After Manchin failed to save the Morgantown plant, he instead found favor with Biden in securing a role for his wife, Gayle Manchin, who now oversees billions in federal aid to Appalachian states as chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission. In her old job as head of the National Association of State Boards of Education, she lobbied states to require schools to purchase Mylan-manufactured EpiPens, which under Bresch had climbed to a price of $600 per pack.
With Bresch now effectively cleared in the price-inflation settlement and the plant now shuttered, West Virginia University is in talks to inherit the former Mylan facility — just in time for Joe Manchin’s newly secured funding to power its research centers. Gouzd told The Intercept that other companies had expressed interest in buying the plant to keep its assembly lines moving but that a lifeline-extending sale failed to materialize.
“He doesn’t want to be accountable to his constituents,” Gouzd said of his cousin. “He wants to talk a lot of bullshit and false promises.”