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Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin, has conducted what may be the most thorough investigation yet into the Sackler family, exploring whether they committed any crimes or financial irregularities, but the company has kept most of his secret findings.
In a bankruptcy filing late Mondaythe drugmaker has admitted hiring lawyers, forensic accountants and other financial experts to probe the family members who own the business and have made billions of dollars from opioid sales.
According to the filing, the team searched for evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the family, reporting to a special committee of Purdue’s board of directors between April 2019 and earlier this month.
Yet in its filing, Purdue Pharma chose to reveal almost nothing of what investigators found, a move that infuriates opioid activists and some government officials.
“They’re always trying to cover up the facts,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who sued the company and its owners, in a report.
“Purdue’s disclosure filing indicates that it paid its attorneys for a 22,000-hour investigation into the Sacklers, but it does not disclose any of their findings,” she added.
Members of the Sackler family have long denied any wrongdoing.
According to Purdue Pharma’s description of the investigation, investigators had unprecedented access to “more than 21 million” internal company documents, including private emails and other correspondence between top executives. of the company.
They were also able to participate in depositions when members of the Sackler family were questioned.
Experts said the investigation appears to be the most extensive effort yet to explore the Sacklers’ alleged responsibility for the opioid epidemic, which has killed an estimated 450,000 Americans.
Healey said Purdue Pharma has an obligation to release all documents and reports produced by the probe, particularly because she was paid with money owed to those harmed by the company.
“Purdue creditors have paid tens of millions of dollars for this investigation,” she said. “But the public can’t see what investigators have learned.”
Purdue Pharma declined to answer questions from NPR about the probe or the decision to keep most of its findings secret.
Sources speaking on behalf of the Sacklers downplayed the investigation and again argued that the family had done nothing wrong.
“As we’ve said before, we support the release of documents and they will continue to show that members of the Sackler family who served on Purdue’s board of directors acted ethically and legally,” said Daniel S. Connolly, attorney for the Raymond Sackler family.
The Purdue Pharma document filed in federal court in White Plains, NY, suggests the main purpose of the investigation was to inform and shape the bankruptcy talks still ongoing.
But the team also worked to resolve lingering questions about the Sacklers’ conduct that have irked the public and government officials:
- What role, if any, did the family play in Purdue Pharma’s admitted criminal acts?
- Did the Sacklers dominate internal decision-making at Purdue Pharma, as many have claimed?
- Have family members acted improperly or unlawfully to shield billions of dollars in opioid-related profits from lawsuits and injury claims?
- If so, could any of these assets be recovered?
“What is absolutely devastating about this briefing paper is that it dangles before us all the questions that the public may never see answered,” said Charlotte Bismuth, a former prosecutor and now activist for the opioids.
“These are questions that hundreds of thousands of families across America have been tortured over the past two decades because they lost a loved one and want to know why,” she added. .
But experts interviewed by NPR said the bankruptcy document filed by Purdue Pharma offered tantalizing clues to what investigators found.
The filing says the team uncovered evidence that “certain transactions between Purdue Pharma and the Sackler families and various Sackler entities were not conducted on an arm’s length basis.”
In separate documents filed this week, Purdue Pharma also disclosed the Sacklers’ information. the company’s total cash withdrawals totaled approximately $10.3 billion from 2008 to 2017.
Company investigators also found that Purdue Pharma “significant value transferred” in non-monetary assets to other Sackler companies and private holdings. The exact nature of the transferred assets and their total value were not disclosed.
Those named in Purdue disclosure documents as receiving compensation from the company include Dr. Kathe Sackler, Mortimer Sackler, Richard Sackler, David Sackler, Jonathan Sackler, and Raymond Sackler, among others.
According to the Purdue Pharma filing, the Sacklers agreed in January to increase their settlement offer by about $1 billion. It is unclear whether the investigation or its findings played a role in their decision.
Speaking on the merits, a source familiar with the situation told NPR that family members were unaware of the findings of the investigation.
As part of the bankruptcy settlement currently on the table, members of the Sackler family would relinquish ownership of the business and pay a total of $4.2 billion from their private wealth in installments over the course of the year. next decade.
The Sacklers described the offer as a significant financial sacrifice. But they will again not admit any wrongdoing and will remain one of the wealthiest dynasties in the country.
The deal would also shield them from future lawsuits related to their role at Purdue Pharma.
Many lawmakers, including Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, have called for many more Sackler assets to be “recovered” during the bankruptcy process and used to help communities ravaged by the opioid crisis.
“You and your family should compensate the American people for the harm you have caused and you should be held fully accountable for your actions,” Maloney said during a hearing of the House Oversight Committee she chairs in December. .
In testimony before Maloney’s panel, former Purdue board member David Sackler again denied wrongdoing and said the family’s financial dealings had been ‘appropriated, documented and disclosed’. .
Just a few years ago, the Sacklers were considered one of America’s most respected families, ranking among the top philanthropists in the world.
Their reputation was shattered by Purdue Pharma internal document disclosures showing that some family members pushed aggressively to increase sales of Oxycontin long after overdoses and deaths linked to the painkiller soared.
Institutions ranging from Tufts University to the Louvre removed the Sackler family name from buildings.
The company has now twice admitted to illegally marketing Oxycontin under plea deals with the US Department of Justice, first in 2007 and again last year.
While refusing to pursue criminal charges, the DOJ accused the Sacklers of making “fraudulent transfers” in order to “inconvenience future creditors”.
In 2019, faced with a flurry of opioid-related lawsuits, the Sacklers’ private company filed for bankruptcy.
Throughout, the Sacklers involved in the business maintained that they acted ethically and were unaware of wrongdoing.
A legal question that now remains is whether Purdue Pharma disclosed enough information about the Sacklers’ conduct and finances to allow parties involved in the bankruptcy proceedings to assess the deal currently on the table.
The attorneys will argue this point before Federal Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain next month in White Plains, NY.
Critics, meanwhile, point to a final twist in Purdue Pharma’s decision to keep the findings of its Sackler probe secret.
In this week’s bankruptcy filing, the company confirmed it would create a “public records filing” that is expected to reveal far more detail about the practices of the drugmaker and its owners.
But Purdue Pharma said this trove of internal documents will only be released after a final bankruptcy plan protecting the Sacklers from future lawsuits “became final and without appeal.”
In a statement this week on Twitter, Massachusetts AG Healey wrote, “Purdue says it will show the evidence to the public after the Sacklers are granted immunity. Huh.”
The law requires a bankrupt business to disclose the information creditors need to make an informed judgment before approving a plan. But Purdue says it will show the evidence to the public after the Sacklers are granted immunity.
— Maura Healey (@MassAGO) March 16, 2021