Last year, Google had to pay $US500 million to avoid criminal prosecution by the US government. Using a convicted con artist, the feds caught Google aiding illegal online pharmaceutical sales. The operation — as described by the Wall Street Journal — is movie material.
The con artist is the man in the photo: David Whitaker. He presented himself as a Canadian drug dealers’ agent to Google sales executives. The government suspected that Google was aiding these illegal pharmacies by illegally publishing ads selling narcotics, steroids and other controlled substances to US citizens.
They hit the jackpot. The Google execs greedily bit the bait and Whitaker spent $US200,000 in government money paying the Mountain View search giant to publish these illegal ads.
The feds recorded incriminatory phone calls and emails showing that Google ad sales execs were completely aware of the legal situation of the pharmacy and its criminal implications, yet decided to take the money anyway. Whitaker told the WSJ that “it was very obvious to Google that my website was not a licensed pharmacy. Understanding this, Google provided me with a very generous credit line and allowed me to set my target advertising directly to American consumers.”
The government built such a strong case that Google had no other course than to settle.
According to their investigation, this went beyond just a few ad execs. Lead prosecutor Peter Neronha says they have proof that Larry Page — one of Google’s founder and now Google’s CEO — knew about this activity and the fact that it was illegal: “[w]e simply know from the documents we reviewed and witnesses we interviewed that Larry Page knew what was going on.”
Do no evil, indeed. The whole story is fascinating and a good long read. Read it all at the WSJ.