A potentially huge Drug Enforcement Agency opioid case against the nation's largest drug company sought a fine in excess of $1 billion for distribution of controlled substances but was reduced to just $150 million by a Justice Department settlement, an "insult" to the DEA's work, The Washington Post reported.
"Within the ranks, we feel like our system was hijacked," now-retired DEA investigator Helen Kaupang, who worked the case, told the Post.
The charges against McKesson Corp were never broached in the settlement between the DOJ and the high-powered corporate lawyers.
"It was insulting," retired DEA special agent David Schiller, whose Denver field office led the probe, told the Post. "Morale has been broken because of it."
The DEA had hoped for the first-ever criminal charges, if not a conviction, against a major drug distributor to send a message to the industry amid the U.S. opioid crisis, but failed to convince the DOJ the charges would warrant an indictment.
"This is the best case we've ever had against a major distributor in the history of the Drug Enforcement Administration," Schiller told the Post. "I said, 'How do we not go after the number one organization?'"
Under the DOJ deal, McKesson warehouses would not lose DEA registrations, but the company agreed to temporarily suspend controlled substance shipments at four distribution centers and pay a $150 million fine.
"While the fine set a record for drug distributors, it is only about $50 million more than the compensation last year for McKesson board chairman and chief executive John H. Hammergren, the nation's third-highest-paid chief executive," the Post reported. "McKesson has 76,000 employees and revenue of almost $200 billion a year, about the same as ExxonMobil."
The fine was sufficient, according to a senior DEA official, despite the disappointment of the retired investigators above who had spoken to the Post.
"We could have fined them out of existence, or indicted the company and put them out of business," the official told the Post on the condition of anonymity. "I'd rather have one of the largest drug distributors be the poster child for detection and reporting of suspicious orders."
Schiller reportedly was encouraged to go after a smaller distributor who would not have the budget for big-time lawyers.
"And I said 'that's exactly why you want to go after McKesson – they're the prize," Schiller told the Post. "They're the ones that are going to send a message to the thousands of mom-and-pops, to other big distributors, to the manufacturers, that this is no longer acceptable."
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