Sacklers Face Furious Questions in Rare Testimony on Opioid Epidemic - The New York Times
Les salauds ont un visage. Mais leur bouche ne sert qu’à évacuer du vent.
By Jan Hoffman
Dec. 17, 2020
Members of Congress on Thursday hurled withering comments and furious questions at two members of the billionaire Sackler family that owns Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, seeking to use a rare public appearance to extract admissions of personal responsibility for the deadly opioid epidemic as well as details about $10 billion that records show the family withdrew from the company.
The hearing, before the House Oversight Committee, offered a highly unusual opportunity for the public to hear directly from some members of the family, whose company is a defendant in thousands of federal and state lawsuits for misleading marketing of OxyContin, the painkiller seen as initiating a wave of opioid addiction that has led to the deaths of more than 450,000 Americans. Eight members of the family have been individually named in many state cases.
The singularity of the Sacklers’ appearance on Thursday was underscored by the likelihood that they may never testify in open court, because the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings and nationwide litigation may resolve in settlements rather than trials. Despite millions of dollars in legal expenses racked up by plaintiffs and Purdue alike — and the company’s subsequent filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2019 — one obstacle to resolution persists: the refusal of the Sacklers to be held personally or criminally responsible and to turn over substantial portions of their fortune.
During the tense, nearly four-hour hearing, David Sackler, 40, and his cousin, Dr. Kathe Sackler, 72, who both served on the company’s board for years, testified remotely and largely sidestepped would-be booby traps and deflected blame to “management” and independent, nonfamily board members.
Or, as Mr. Sackler said, “That’s a question for the lawyers.”
In the absence of direct admissions of responsibility by the Sacklers — or by Dr. Craig Landau, Purdue’s chief executive since 2017, who also testified — committee members used their questions to highlight the most egregious actions over the years by the company and by Mr. Sackler’s father, Dr. Richard Sackler, a hands-on executive during the cresting period of the epidemic.
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In particular, they explored the actions that followed a 2007 federal fine of nearly $635 million that the company and three executives paid after pleading guilty to federal criminal charges of “misbranding.” The settlement included no admission of liability by any of the Sacklers.
The committee chairwoman, Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, asked Mr. Sackler whether in 2008, after the company’s federal settlement, the family was concerned about state investigations. Mr. Sackler denied knowing that investigations had been mounting.
But then Ms. Maloney read from an email exchange between Mr. Sackler and other relatives in 2007, just a week after that settlement. Referring to courtroom activity, he wrote: “We’re rich? For how long? Until which suits get through to the family?”
Last month, Purdue pleaded guilty to three felonies involving kickbacks and fraud related to promotion of its opioid and failure to report aberrant sales. The Justice Department settled with the company for $8.3 billion in criminal and civil penalties, and family members for $225 million in civil penalties. The Sacklers did not admit any wrongdoing. The amount they paid represents about 2 percent of the family’s net worth.
Maura Healey, the attorney general for Massachusetts, the first state to name individual Sacklers in litigation, said that the Sacklers want “special treatment.” In a letter to the House committee she wrote: “If we let powerful people cover up the facts, avoid accountability, or create a government-sponsored OxyContin business — that’s not justice. This time, we have to get it right.”