One of America’s most successful companies is being summoned to federal court to face the unlikely charge of drug trafficking. On Thursday, the Department of Justice charged transportation company FedEx with distributing restricted prescription drugs for illegal online pharmacies.
FedEx is indicted for “conspiracies to traffic in controlled substances and misbranded prescription drugs for its role in distributing controlled substances and prescription drugs for illegal Internet pharmacies,” according to a press release by the United States Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of California.
According to federal prosecutors, FedEx has profited hugely as a result of shipping the drugs. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, the company made $820 million serving online pharmacies. If found guilty, the company could be forced to pay $1.6 billion or more.
FedEx adamantly defended itself. “FedEx is innocent of the charges brought today by the Department of Justice. We will plead not guilty. We will defend against this attack on the integrity and good name of FedEx and its employees,” said FedEx’s Senior Vice President Marketing and Communications Patrick Fitzgerald, in a statement.
The company claims that on a number of occasions, they asked the government to provide a list of online pharmacies engaging in illegal activity, vowing to stop doing business with them once they were identified. So far, according to the statement, the government has refused.
Among the allegations in the 15-count indictment, according to the U.S. Attorney’s press release is the claim that “as early as 2004, FedEx knew that it was delivering drugs to dealers and addicts."
“FedEx’s couriers in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia expressed safety concerns that were circulated to FedEx Senior management, including that FedEx trucks were stopped on the road by online pharmacy customers demanding packages of pills, that the delivery address was a parking lot, school, or vacant home where several car loads of people were waiting for the FedEx driver to arrive with their drugs, that customers were jumping on the FedEx trucks and demanding online pharmacy packages, and that FedEx drivers were threatened if they insisted on delivering packages to the addresses instead of giving the packages to customers who demanded them.”
In response to these concerns, the government claims that FedEx developed a new policy so that online pharmacy packages from questionable shippers were held for pick up, rather than delivered to the address of the person who ordered the package.
The charges come on the heels of recent law enforcement crack down on recreational use of prescription pills nation-wide. Abuse of prescription drugs—ranging from painkillers to anti-anxiety medication—has led to more deaths than drugs most people think of as deadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the 41,340 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2011, 22,810 (55 percent) were related to pharmaceuticals.
The company promises to defend itself aggressively, but it may have an uphill battle. Both United Parcel Service and search engine Google have recently settled cases with the Justice Department related to doing business with online pharmacies.
“We want to be clear what’s at stake here: the government is suggesting that FedEx assume criminal responsibility for the legality of the contents of the millions of packages that we pick up and deliver every day. We are a transportation company – we are not law enforcement,” said Fitzgerald in the statement. “We have no interest in violating the privacy of our customers. We continue to stand ready and willing to support and assist law enforcement. We cannot, however, do the job of law enforcement ourselves.”
FedEx has been summoned to make their court appearance in San Francisco on July 29.
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