U.S. states accuse 26 drugmakers of generic drug price fixing in sweeping lawsuit

By Diane Bartz and Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – Twenty-six drug manufacturers were sued on Wednesday by the attorneys general of most U.S. states and several territories, which accused them of conspiring to reduce competition and drive up generic drug prices.

The lawsuit accused Novartis’ Sandoz unit, Teva Pharmaceuticals’ Actavis unit, Mylan, Pfizer Inc and other drugmakers of conspiring to rig the market between 2009 and 2016 for more than 80 drugs.

Attorneys general from 46 states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories said the defendants prioritized profit over the public interest, depriving millions of consumers of lower prices for needed medication.

Ten executives, including many sales and marketing directors, are also defendants in the 543-page complaint filed in a federal court in Connecticut.

Novartis spokesman Eric Althoff said the instances of misconduct related to its $195 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice in March “do not support the vast, systemic conspiracy the states allege.”

The settlement resolved allegations Novartis fixed generic drug prices between 2013 and 2015.

Pfizer spokeswoman Sally Beatty said the drugmaker did not believe it engaged in unlawful conduct. Mylan spokeswoman Lauren Kashtan said her company had found no evidence of price-fixing. Teva did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit follows similar cases over generic drug prices brought in 2016 and 2019, and which remain pending.

Brand names of some of the drugs at issue include glaucoma drug Xalatan, acne drug Differin, anti-seizure medicine Dilantin, anti-fungal medicine Lotrimin AF Cream, and Ritalin for attention deficit disorder.

“Through phone calls, text messages, emails, corporate conventions, and cozy dinner parties, generic pharmaceutical executives were in constant communication, colluding to fix prices and restrain competition,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said. “They took steps to evade accountability.”

(Reporting by Diane Bartz and Jonathan Stempel; Additional reporting by Ankur Banerjee and Caroline Humer; Editing by David Gregorio and Richard Chang)

U.S. charges two jail guards over Jeffrey Epstein death

U.S. charges two jail guards over Jeffrey Epstein death
NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors on Tuesday unveiled criminal charges accusing two correctional officers of falsifying records on the night financier Jeffrey Epstein killed himself in a New York jail cell.

Tova Noel and Michael Thomas were charged in an indictment with making false records and conspiracy, in connection with their actions at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Manhattan.

Epstein, 66, a well-connected money manager, was found unresponsive in his cell on Aug. 10 at the MCC.

His suicide came a little over a month after he was arrested and charged with trafficking dozens of underage girls as young as 14 from at least 2002 to 2005. Epstein had pleaded not guilty.

(Reporting by New York Newsroom; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Bernadette Baum and Chris Reese)

U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein charged with sex trafficking of underage girls

Members of the media await the arraignment of Jeffrey Epstein outside of Manhattan Federal Court, after the Southern District of New York announced charges of sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors, in New York, U.S., July 8, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – American financier Jeffrey Epstein was charged with sex trafficking on Monday, as prosecutors accused him of luring dozens of girls as young as 14 to his luxury homes in New York and Florida and paying them for sex acts.

FILE PHOTO: Jeffrey Epstein is shown in this undated Florida Department of Law Enforcement photo. REUTERS/Florida Department of Law Enforcement/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Jeffrey Epstein is shown in this undated Florida Department of Law Enforcement photo. REUTERS/Florida Department of Law Enforcement/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

An indictment unsealed in federal court in Manhattan said Epstein, 66, “intentionally sought out minors and knew that many of his victims were in fact under the age of 18, including because, in some instances, minor victims expressly told him their age.”

The former hedge fund manager was accused of arranging for girls to perform nude “massages” and other sex acts, and paying some girls to recruit others.

Epstein has said in earlier court filings that his encounters with alleged victims were consensual and that he believed they were 18 when they occurred.

The indictment charged Epstein with one count of sex trafficking and one count of sex trafficking conspiracy for alleged misconduct from at least 2002 to 2005.

His lawyer, Jack Goldberger, said before the indictment was made public that Epstein will plead not guilty.

Epstein was arrested on Saturday night and is expected to appear in federal court on Monday.

Known for socializing with politicians and royalty, Epstein once had friends including U.S. President Donald Trump and former president Bill Clinton, and according to court papers Britain’s Prince Andrew.

None of those people were mentioned in the indictment.

EARLIER DEAL

The former hedge fund manager first came under investigation in 2005 after police in Palm Beach, Florida, received reports he had sexually abused underage girls in his mansion there.

By 2007, Epstein was facing a potential federal indictment for sexually abusing dozens of girls between 1999 and 2007, directing others to abuse them, and paying employees to bring victims to him, according to court filings.

However, Epstein struck a deal to plead guilty to a lesser Florida state felony prostitution charge. He served 13 months in a county jail, but was allowed to leave during the day to go to his office, and agreed to register as a sex offender.

Prosecutors involved in that agreement included Alex Acosta, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and now Secretary of Labor for Trump.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Labor on Sunday declined to comment on Epstein’s arrest.

 

‘MASSAGES’

Epstein would initially recruit victims to provide “massages,” which they would perform nude or partially nude, the indictment said.

Prosecutors said the encounters would become increasingly sexual in nature, sometimes including groping and indirect contact with victims’ genitals, where Epstein would typically masturbate and ask victims to touch him while he did.

Epstein paid girls to recruit new girls, to ensure a “steady supply of new victims to exploit” prosecutors said.

Three unnamed employees, one in Manhattan and two in Palm Beach, aided Epstein by arranging some of his sexual encounters, the indictment said.

Several of Epstein’s accusers had challenged his Florida deal in court, saying they were denied a chance to express their views, violating the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act.

In February of this year, a U.S. district judge in Florida agreed, saying the deal was illegal.

Even so, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a court filing last month there was no reason to cancel the agreement.

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives confronted Acosta about his role in April, during a hearing before a House subcommittee on a routine budget matter.

Acosta told lawmakers that human trafficking was “an incredibly important issue,” and that his office’s efforts ensured that Epstein would be punished.

“I understand the frustration,” Acosta said. “It’s important to understand that he was going to get off with no jail time or restitution. It was the work of our office that resulted in him going to jail.”

The Justice Department is investigating whether government lawyers committed professional misconduct in the Florida case.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)

Has ‘the sacrificial lamb’ arrived?: U.N. cites new recordings in Khashoggi murder

FILE PHOTO: Participants take photos next to a picture of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser/File Photo

RIYADH (Reuters) – Moments before Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed and dismembered last October, two of his suspected murderers laying in wait at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate fretted about the task at hand, according to a U.N. report published on Wednesday.

Will it “be possible to put the trunk in a bag?” asked Maher Mutreb, a Saudi intelligence officer who worked for a senior advisor to Saudi crown prince, according to a report from the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions.

“No. Too heavy,” responded Salah al-Tubaigy, a forensic doctor from the Interior Ministry who would dismember and dispose of the body. He expressed hope his task would “be easy”.

Tubaiqy continued: “Joints will be separated. It is not a problem. The body is heavy. First time I cut on the ground. If we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished. We will wrap each of them.”

Mutreb and 10 others are now standing trial in closed hearings in Saudi Arabia for their role in the crime.

Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, rejected the investigator’s report as “nothing new”.

He added in a tweet: “The report of the rapporteur in the human rights council contains clear contradictions and baseless allegations which challenge its credibility.”

The report, which calls for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other senior Saudi officials to be investigated over their liability for Khashoggi’s death, relies on recordings and forensic work conducted by Turkish investigators and information from the trials of the suspects in Saudi Arabia.

Khashoggi, a critic of the prince and a Washington Post columnist, was last seen at the consulate where he was to receive papers ahead of his wedding.

TEXT MESSAGE

The report concludes that his murder was deliberate and premeditated. The CIA and some Western countries believe the crown prince ordered the killing, which Saudi officials deny.

Media reports have published the contents of some recordings obtained from inside the consulate, but the U.N. report discloses chilling new details.

At the end of the exchange with Tobaigy, Mutreb asks if “the sacrificial lamb” has arrived. At no point is Khashoggi’s name mentioned, but two minutes later he enters the building.

Khashoggi is ushered to the consul general’s office on the second floor where he meets Mutreb, whom he knew from when they worked together at the Saudi Embassy in London years earlier.

Mutreb tells Khashoggi to send his son a mobile text message.

“What should I say? See you soon? I can’t say kidnapping,” Khashoggi responds.

“Cut it short,” comes the reply. “Take off your jacket.”

“How could this happen in an embassy?” Khashoggi says. “I will not write anything.”

“Type it, Mr. Jamal. Hurry up. Help us so that we can help you because at the end we will take you back to Saudi Arabia and if you don’t help us you know what will happen at the end; let this issue find a good end,” Mutreb says.

The report says the rest of the recordings contain sounds of movement, heavy panting and plastic sheets being wrapped, which Turkish intelligence concluded came after Khashoggi’s death as Saudi officials dismembered his body.

(Reporting By Stephen Kalin, Editing by William Maclean)

Mass Grave Found In Search For Missing Mexican Students

Mexican authorities have admitted finding a mass grave in their search for 43 students who went missing last month after a clash with police.

Mexico’s attorney general told reporters the grave was discovered after information was obtained from two arrested gang members.

Police in the region had admitted to investigators that they had taken the students and turned them over to local drug gangs so the gangs could “take care of” the students for the police.

The incident has shocked Mexican residents to the point that 56 people have been arrested in the disappearance and local officials have been forced to resign.  The governor of the state has also stepped down because of the mass corruption of the police department.

The mayor of Iguala, where the children were taken, is on the run along with his wife and the police chief.  The mayor reportedly ordered the students to be intercepted so that his wife would not be interrupted during a speech.