I guess we’ve lost our sense of outrage in America but, with all the talk about the rich owning an ever-increasing percentage of the country, we let them off the hook legally as well.
Congress is very good at expressing outrage and useless at controlling outcomes
So the House oversight committee brought David and Kathe (don’t you love the spelling?) Sackler to a hearing before them on Thursday. Both Sacklers were Purdue Pharma board members during the heyday of Purdue’s trafficking extravaganza. Carolyn Maloney, committee chairman, told the Sacklers she wanted to hear them “acknowledge your wrongdoing,” as if that was some kind of curative.
As we approach a half-million lives lost to opioid-addiction-for-profit across a nation more recently crippled by its covid pandemic, I’m not much interested in acknowledgements.
When complicit in murder-for-profit, a life sentence in prison is appropriate
Comparisons must be made. The covid pandemic, for which nations are locked down and business-as-usual is essentially disrupted, has a death-count in America of about 230,000 and rising. David and Kathe Sackler, including their extended family, participated in a murder-for-profit scheme taking twice that many lives—and also rising.
We haven’t yet determined a single-source trigger for Covid-19. Thus far it’s relegated to the act-of-god category, along with hurricanes, tsunamis and the plagues of yesteryear. One can blame increased ocean temperatures for deadly hurricanes, offshore earthquakes for tsunamis and ignorance for bubonic plague—but you cannot put them in jail.
Those we do imprison are small-time drug dealers and the poor
The Sacklers are neither small-time nor poor. We do know that during the decade prior to Purdue Pharma’s 2007 lawsuit, the family pulled just $120 million in personal profits from the company. Yet based on court documents, the family withdrew, off-shored, hid or distributed elsewhere over $10 billion from Purdue during the ten years following.
Essentially, they bankrupted their own company in anticipation of settlement. And it worked wonderfully for them. Not so well for the ruined lives and funerals left in the company wake. Purdue has been assessed $8 billion in damages, but the money is no longer there. It has somehow vanished.
Hmmm. Under bankruptcy law, you’re required to provide under penalty of perjury complete and accurate information about all of your assets, debt, income, expenses and financial history. If you knowingly misrepresent, such as by failing to disclose an asset, you could be subject to criminal penalties, including fines of up to $250,000, twenty years in prison, or both.
Twenty years in prison, or both sounds like an opening bid toward justice
But only an opener—and perhaps a way to stop the phony corporate connivance.
Bi-partisanship has not yet entirely left the room in at least the House Oversight Committee, one after another from both parties demanding the Sacklers hand over the profits from OxyContin. Maloney accused them of trying “to fraudulently shield money for your own personal benefit. When it began to look like your wealth could be at risk for losses, you moved it out of reach, preventing the money from going to the victims of the crisis you created,” she said. “They have taken money out of the company so it would be forever beyond the legal reach of the people they were harming. A lot of people agree that they are one of the most evil families in America.”
Others were focused on another form of justice
Rep. James Comer, who represents a district in Kentucky, one of the states worst hit by the opioid epidemic, was not alone in wondering why people dealing drugs on the streets are locked up while “bad actors” like the Sacklers walk free.
“The overwhelming majority of people who are incarcerated in Kentucky are there because of drug problems. They had to forfeit their assets. They have broken homes, and the cost to society is immeasurable. You all have created the same harm to society. Yet you’re one of the wealthiest families in America. I hope that the courts hold you accountable,” he said.
Republicans and Democrats alike were united in their disgust
Comer, the highest ranking Republican, told the Sacklers, “We don’t agree on a lot on this committee in a bipartisan way, but I think we all agree in our opinion that Purdue Pharma and the actions of your family are sickening.”
The Sackler testimony was by remote transcription, as is normal in these days of covid separation, which is a shame because face-to-face hearings are far more enlightening in their energy. But if David and Kathe Sackler hoped to coast through just one more hearing on the wings of their wealth and privilege, they were mistaken. They left the with calls for prosecution of members of their family ringing in their ears.
The committee could direct the Department of Justice to call a Grand Jury and indict. Whether they will is entirely a different matter. Sickening only goes so far in calls for justice.
And yet one more final note and then I am done with the criminal Sacklers
The American public is not blind to injustice. Black Lives Matter brought them to the streets across the nation, Occupy Wall Street and other disparities such as prison reform and the homelessness crisis are no longer hidden issues.
We know why during continuous bank fraud no one goes to jail. We understand that the poor go to prison and the rich to the Hamptons. It is no secret that justice is no longer blind and money rules our lives. But now it rules our deaths as well and I find that a heavy burden to bear.
Perhaps you do as well.
Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket, via Getty Images