(SAN FRANCISCO) -- Delivery company FedEx faces charges for its role in distributing controlled substances and prescription drugs, officials announced Thursday. A federal grand jury in San Francisco, California indicted the company for its involvement with illegal Internet pharmacies. Such groups, beginning in 1998, don't require a prescription before filling orders for drugs and instead provided products based on an online questionnaire.
The practices violated federal and state laws on the distribution of controlled substances, according to U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag.
As early as 2004, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Food and Drug Administration, and members of Congress reportedly informed FedEx that illegal pharmacies were using its shipping services, according to an indictment. The company subsequently established a policy requiring all online pharmacy shippers to be approved by the Credit Department, and also created a related sales policy.
Officials allege, however, that FedEx knew it was "delivering drugs to dealers and addicts." Couriers in Kentucky, Tennnessee, and Virginia expressed safety concerns to senior management, including claims that trucks were stopped on the road by online pharmacy customers demanding pills, or that delivery addresses were parking lots or vacant homes.
In response, the company created a procedure where such packages were held for pickup at specific stations rather than dropped off. Still, the company knew of the dealings and continued its affiliations.
“The advent of Internet pharmacies allowed the cheap and easy distribution of massive amounts of illegal prescription drugs to every corner of the United States, while allowing perpetrators to conceal their identities through the anonymity the Internet provides,” Haag said. “This indictment highlights the importance of holding corporations that knowingly enable illegal activity responsible for their role in aiding criminal behavior.”
In response to Thursday's indictment, FedEx Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications Patrick Fitzgerald said the privacy of its customers is at risk based on the charges.
"FedEx is innocent of the charges brought today by the Department of Justice," Fitzgerald said. "We will plead not guilty. We will defend against this attack on the integrity and good name of FedEx and its employees."
Company representatives are scheduled to appear in court on July 29.
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