MANHATTAN (CN) – Opening a new front in the war on opioids, the Department of Justice brought charges Tuesday that could carry 10-year minimum sentences for two executives of the Rochester Drug Co-operative.
“This epidemic has been driven by greed,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman declared at a press conference this afternoon.
Former Rochester Drug CEO Laurence F. Doud III and William Pietruszewski, the company’s former chief compliance officer, each face charges of unlawfully distributing oxycodone and fentanyl and conspiring to defraud the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Pietruszewski, a 53-year-old who pleaded guilty on April 19, is cooperating with the government. Rochester Drug itself meanwhile has entered into a nonprosecution agreement with mandatory federal court monitoring for what Berman described as a record of ignoring “red flags.”
“RDC was, in Doud’s own words, the ‘knight in shining armor’ for pharmacies that had been cut off by other distributors,” Berman said, using an abbreviation for Rochester Drug and quoting a statement that Doud allegedly made to one compliance auditor.
DEA special agent in charge Ray Donovan told reporters that the case shows that cartels are not the only ones fueling the opioid epidemic.
“America has been hit two-fold,” Donovan said, “by way of Mexican cartels distributing heroin and fentanyl throughout the United States and by the non-compliance of pharmaceutical companies that put profits above people—above their lives.”
Both Berman and Donovan described the case as unprecedented.
“This prosecution is the first of its kind,” Berman said. “It is the first time that the executives of a pharmaceutical distributor and the distributor itself have been charged with drug trafficking.”
The route is not as unprecedented, however, in other jurisdictions.
Last month, New York Attorney General Letitia James brought a federal complaint against the billionaire Sackler family, who own the oxycontin maker Purdue. That case fell on the heels of a $270 million settlement with the state of Oklahoma.
Opioids killed 42,000 people in 2016 – twice the number who died from opioid overdoses in 2010, according to the Office of Inspector General.