Prosecutors: FedEx “Should Be Treated Just Like Any Other Drug Courier”

Image courtesy of David Transier

Two years after federal prosecutors charged FedEx with being criminally complicit in the transporting of illegal drugs from online pharmacies, the case is finally going to trial. In this morning’s opening statements, lawyers for the Justice Department urged the court to not be swayed by the famous brand name on the side of the planes.

The 2014 grand jury indictment [PDF] accused FedEx of Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substances, Distribution of Controlled Substances, Conspiracy to Distribute Misbranded Drugs and Misbranding Drugs, alleging that the express-shipping giant had deliberately ignored obvious indicators that it was transporting drugs for illegal online pharmacies.

FedEx employees claimed to have raised concerns with FedEx management after incidents like pharmacy customers stopping trucks on the road near the delivery address, indicating that the recipient did not actually reside there. Some customers would actually jump onto the trucks, demanding delivery, while some drivers say they were threatened if they insisted on delivering to the address on the package.

Additionally, drivers complained about bringing pharmacy parcels to delivery addresses that were nothing more than parking lots, or schools, or vacant homes where multiple recipients would park outside waiting for deliveries.

Yet according to prosecutors, FedEx management, rather than cease doing business with these pharmacy shippers, “adopted a procedure whereby Internet pharmacy packages from problematic shippers were held for pick up at specific stations, rather than delivered to the recipient’s address.”

During this morning’s open arguments, the federal prosecutor asked the court to not be swayed by the “air of legitimacy” that the government contends allowed FedEx to continue carrying these drugs with impunity for so many years.

“This drug courier should be treated in this court just like your honor would treat every other drug courier,” said the prosecutor.

The government says that internal FedEx emails will be entered into evidence at trial demonstrating that the company was turning a blind eye to pharmacies that employees referred to as “shady” and “on the run.”

One message cited in the indictment, written in 2004 by FedEx’s Managing Director of Revenue Operations, notes that “many of these companies are fraudulent and doing business outside Federal regulations.”

However, FedEx contends that it did nothing wrong; that it complied with the government’s investigations into illegal pharmacies, and that it is only as good as the information it receives from those tasked with regulating the pharmacies and the drugs they provide.

“We are a transportation company — we are not law enforcement,” has been FedEx’s response since the start of this dispute.

It is rare for these sorts of disputes to get to the criminal trial phase. Most end with enforcement actions where the company involved pays money and admits limited or no culpability. For example, in March 2013, UPS agreed to pay $40 million to end a DOJ probe into allegations that were very similar to those currently facing FedEx. If the court rules against FedEx, the company could be on the hook for around $1.6 billion.

[via Bloomberg]