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Editorial: Another shakedown

Did FedEx knowingly scheme with shady online pharmacies to ship a wide variety of drugs obtained without valid prescriptions? Or was the company simply providing the service that has made it one of the world’s most successful delivery outfits?

That was the question at the heart of a federal trial that abruptly ended Friday after federal prosecutors finally came to their senses and dropped the charges against the shipping giant.

The Justice Department had spent years chasing FedEx, UPS and others over these allegations, while somehow ignoring the U.S. Postal Service. Prosecutors took the position that the companies should act as law enforcement surrogates, inspecting every package for contraband — while exempting government delivery outfits from similar standards.

UPS caved in 2013, forking over a $40 million ransom under a non-prosecution agreement with government. Walgreens and CVS also agreed to pay a combined total of more than $150 million in civil fines after facing similar accusations.

But FedEx, to its great credit, stood its ground — and the government’s case got skimpier and skimpier as the process unfolded. U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer dismissed the bulk of the allegations earlier this year thanks to prosecutorial fumbling. During the proceedings he repeatedly chastised government lawyers and expressed doubts they could prove that FedEx officials actually conspired to distribute illegal drugs.

Judge Breyer also confronted the prosecution on the matter of the Postal Service being given a free pass despite routinely delivering the same kind of drugs from the same pharmacies as FedEx and UPS.

FedEx attorneys argued the company worked only with online pharmacies licensed by states and registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration — actually cooperating with the government to slow the flow of illegal drugs. In addition, company spokesman Patrick Fitzgerald noted that FedEx asked the DEA for a list of bogus online pharmacies and was more than willing to cut off their service. The government never provided that information.

“We view the whole concept of wrongdoing by FedEx as absurd,” said Mr. Fitzgerald. “We’re a transportation company but we’re not law enforcement.”

Indeed.

For fighting back, FedEx risked a potential fine of $1.6 billion. And there’s the rub. This was another high-profile example of a Justice Department shakedown intended to intimidate the latest corporate villain into a big-money settlement despite spotty evidence of any real wrongdoing. Let’s hope the fortitude FedEx officials exhibited in going head to head with federal prosecutors will inspire others to resist similar railroading in the future.

If the government has an issue with pill mills and prescription fraud, it should go after those responsible. Extorting Federal Express was ridiculous.

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