FedEx accused of trafficking illegal prescription drugs

US shipping giant conspired with internet pharmacies to ship illegal sedatives and painkillers, allege prosecutors

A trial began on Monday 13 June over drug trafficking charges against FedEx, according to US-based ABC News and Associated Press.

FedEx knew that drugs in millions of packages it delivered over a decade were illegally prescribed, but shipped them anyway because it did not want to lose millions of dollars in revenue to rival United Parcel Service (UPS), Assistant US Attorney John Hemann said during his opening statement.

“They faced a choice, and the choice is to stop or go, and time and time again, they went,” Hemann said at the trial in San Francisco.

The government plans to rely on FedEx’s emails to make its case.

FedEx has denied the charges and says it only shipped what it believed were legal drugs from pharmacies licensed by states and registered with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

In her opening statement, FedEx attorney Cristina Arguedas said the company helped investigators crack down on the two pharmacies that prosecutors say were involved in the scheme and that it was never told by the DEA not to ship for a customer.

However, FedEx at one point had been told by the DEA that one of the pharmacies had shipped drugs to a woman who committed suicide.

Arguedas argued that a DEA agent who emailed FedEx in 2006 about the suicide did not want the company to do anything, citing an ongoing investigation of the business.

UPS paid $40 million in 2013 to resolve similar allegations that arose from a long-term government crackdown on internet pharmacies that ship drugs to customers without valid prescriptions.

Prosecutors will argue that in the early 2000s, FedEx began conspiring with two internet pharmacy organisations to ship powerful sleep aids, sedatives, painkillers and other drugs to customers who had not been physically examined by a doctor.

The crux of the government’s case is that FedEx knew the drugs were illegal and headed for dealers and addicts but delivered them anyway.

Company drivers expressed safety concerns that FedEx trucks were being stopped on the road by online pharmacy customers demanding packages of pills, according to the US attorney’s office.

No FedEx officials are facing prison time, but the charges carry a potential fine of $1.6 billion.

The international shipping company reported revenue of US$47.5 billion in 2015.

FedEx is charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to launder money and other counts.

The trial could last into August before a ruling by Senior US District Court Judge Charles Breyer, who will decide the case.

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