Even These Trump Admin Folks Wanted To Prosecute Walmart For Knowingly Filling Pill Mill Scrips
In the midst of an epidemic of opioid addiction that has already taken hundreds of thousands of American lives, at least we have the Trump administration looking out for the poor Fortune 500 companies like Walmart that actively encouraged dependence on opiods because they were profiting from addiction.
Don't forget — as Ron Johnson helpfully points out, coronavirus isn't the only thing killing Americans every day.
And in an absolutely wild story broken by ProPublica last week, we learned that despite a years-long investigation that showed horrific complicity from Walmart in the opioid epidemic, Trump appointees blocked federal prosecutors from attempting to hold them accountable.
And why is that, you ask?
Because "We're all capitalists here."
It's all bad
Every day, 128 people in the US die of an opioid overdose. Each one of these deaths was preventable.
Millions of Americans didn't get hooked on opioids all by themselves — a lot of people and corporations helped them along the way. And Walmart appears to have been among the worst offenders.
Federal prosecutors in Texas spent more than two years investigating Walmart's complicity in opioid overdoses — and the evidence against them was damning. According to ProPublica, the prosecutors found that
Opioids dispensed by Walmart pharmacies in Texas had killed customers who had overdosed. The pharmacists who dispensed those opioids had told the company they didn't want to fill the prescriptions because they were coming from doctors who were running pill mills. They pleaded for help and guidance from Walmart's corporate office.
And this behavior wasn't contained to just Texas.
Investigators had obtained records of similar cries for help from Walmart pharmacists all over the country: from Maine, North Carolina, Kansas and Washington, and other states. They reported hundreds of thousands of suspicious or inappropriate opioid prescriptions. One Walmart employee warned about a Florida doctor who had a "list of patients from Kentucky that have been visiting pharmacies in all of central Wisconsin recently." That doctor had sent patients to Walmarts in more than 30 other states.
Did Walmart take this information and use it to conduct a diligent investigation, stop filling prescriptions from pill mills, and work to ensure they weren't contributing to addiction and death?
Of course not!
In response to these alarms, Walmart compliance officials did not take corporate-wide action to halt the flow of opioids. Instead, they repeatedly admonished pharmacists that they could not cut off any doctor entirely. They could only evaluate each prescription on an individual basis. And they went further. An opioid compliance manager told an executive in an email, gathered during the inquiry and viewed by ProPublica, that Walmart's focus should be on "driving sales."
So yeah. It looks bad. Very bad.
So WTF happened?!
In a nutshell, Trump appointees said "Nah."
After spending years investigating and putting together what — Republican! — Eastern District of Texas US Attorney Joe Brown believed to be a strong case, the Trump regime stepped in to save the poor corporate behemoth from facing any repercussions for its abhorrent behavior.
In early 2018, Brown and veteran Assistant US Attorney Heather Rattan compiled their findings and informed Walmart of their intent to indict it.
That's when the crooks in the Trump administration stepped in.
As reported by ProPublica, "Brown was ordered to stand down. On Aug. 31, 2018, Trump officials officially informed Walmart that the DOJ would decline to prosecute the company[.]"
Two months later, though, Brown and his team still hadn't given up. They went to DC just before Halloween 2018 to try to win over top Trump officials at the DEA and DOJ.
First, Brown and Rattan went to the DEA. When they finished their presentation, Uttam Dhillon, acting administrator of the DEA — himself a Trump appointee — reportedly "sat back in his chair and exclaimed, 'Jesus Christ[.] Why aren't we talking about this as a criminal case?'"
Dhillon then joined the Texas crew to head over to the DOJ and plead their case to none other than ... wait for it ... Rod Rosenstein. (Remember him?!)
Rattan and her team were given a half-hour to make their presentation. She explained that dispensing opioids without a legitimate medical purpose is legally akin to dealing heroin. Criminal law says if a person or entity is willfully blind or deliberately ignorant, they are as liable as if they had acted intentionally. Once Walmart's headquarters knew its pharmacists were raising alarms about suspicious prescriptions, but the compliance department continued to allow — even push — them to fill them, well, that made the company guilty, the Texas prosecutors contended.
This was not a question of a few rogue employees, Rattan explained. Walmart had a national problem. Worse, the prosecutors contended, the company was a repeat offender. Walmart had agreed to a settlement with the DEA seven years earlier in which it had promised to improve its controls over the abuse of opioid prescriptions. Still the problems persisted. That's why the prosecutors believed they needed to pursue the extraordinary path of a criminal prosecution.
Sounds pretty damning, right?
Not to Rod Rosenstein.
Brown was emphatic, telling Rosenstein: "We have to act."
A fine would not be a sufficient deterrent, the DEA's Dhillon added, since Walmart "has more money than it knows what to do with."
"Not that there's anything wrong with that," Rosenstein responded, according to five people familiar with the investigation. "We are all capitalists here."
Go fuck yourself, Rod.
Shortly after his capitalism quip, Rosenstein left the meeting. There would be no criminal prosecution of Walmart.
Still, the Texas team didn't give up.
Rosenstein and other Trump officials had suggested prosecuting individual Walmart employees, so they looked into that. But when they looked to indict a mid-level Walmart manager, the administration killed that, too.
"Okay then," you might be thinking, "then at leastthe federal government is going after Walmart in a civil case." And you wouldn't be the only one.
After the meeting with Rosenstein, Brian Benczkowski, the head of the criminal division, had told Brown, "You have a whopper of a civil case," according to four people familiar with the investigation.
But that, too was blocked by the Trump regime.
One Texas prosecutor was so outraged by Walmart's ability to kill these cases that he left his position in the Eastern District of Texas.
Walmart's ability to go over the heads of the Texas office left the U.S. attorney's team profoundly frustrated — so much so that the lead civil prosecutor on the case resigned in protest on Oct. 25, 2019. "I deeply regret that Department leadership prevented EDTX from filing its lawsuit in 2018," Joshua Russ, then the head of the Eastern District's civil division, wrote in his resignation letter, a copy of which (with Walmart's name blacked out) ProPublica obtained. "Corporations cannot poison Americans with impunity. Good sense dictates stern and swift action when Americans die."
And it's not only about Walmart
To Trump and his cronies, "capitalism" apparently means letting corporations kill people without repercussions. Walmart is not alone in being able to avoid consequences because of the Trump regime's corruption.
Under Trump, federal white collar prosecutions are at an all-time low. Neither individuals nor corporations are being prosecuted for white collar crimes.
And I, for one, am shocked that a man who has spent his life pursuing shady, illegal, and fraudulent businesses would refuse to go after his fellow white collar criminals.
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[ ProPublica ]