Pluralistic: 18 Aug 2021

Today's links

The columnated facade of the Serpentine Sackler Gallery; behind the columns, the front of the gallery has been replaced with a mosaic of $100 bills and Oxycontin pills.

The Sacklers threaten us all with a good time (permalink)

The Sacklers are a multigenerational family of drug dealers, descended from the pioneer of the benzo epidemic, whose family drug business, Purdue Pharma, jumpstarted the opioid epidemic with its drug Oxycontin. The epidemic's US body count is past 800,000.

The Sacklers are worth billions – the family's net worth exceeds that of other criminal dynasties like the Rockefellers. They are facing a blizzard of litigation thanks to their active role in deceptive, aggressive opioid marketing.

Depositions and internal documents about the Sacklers reveal their direct role in Purdue's explicit plan to create addicts and then demonize them, blaming their addiction on their personal moral failings rather than the deceptive practices of the pharma industry.

For many years, the Sacklers were among the world's most effective reputation-launderers, dispensing crumbs from their family fortune to arts and cultural institutions so that their name was synonymous with generosity, not genocide.

They went to enormous lengths to suppress photos of themselves and generally refused to discuss the opioid epidemic and their family's role in it. They also had their lawyers threaten journalists who linked the family with opioid deaths (I got one of these threats).

But eventually, their victims caught up with them. The Sacklers and Purdue are facing a blizzard of litigation by states, localities, addiction survivors and the families of people lost to overdose. Internal documents confirm that the Sacklers anticipated this outcome.

Family memos show Sacklers fretting about lawsuits piercing the corporate veil and reaching the family's vast fortune, and New York State litigation revealed documentary evidence of the family looting the Purdue coffers and sending the money offshore.

Having smuggled billions into offshore havens, the Sacklers began to close out the store stateside. They divested themselves of Purdue, entered a guilty plea on its behalf, and engineered a highly unusual bankruptcy for the company.

The company opened a shell office in White Plains, NY, where the only bankruptcy judge is Robert Drain, an SDNY judge with a reputation for billionaire-friendly bankruptcy deals.

They put a deal on the table: we'll voluntarily return a few of the billions we extracted from Purdue and use it to settle all claims against the company and the family. The family will keep billions, its victims will be denied a chance to publicly document their trauma.

In other words, they'll get the protections that a bankruptcy court can offer…without going bankrupt. They will remain richer than almost every other person in the history of the human race.

As the day on which the Sacklers' gambit would be finalized drew closer, the victims, survivors and critics of their blood-fortune have switched their focus from holding the Sacklers to account to ensuring this never happens again.

Any harms to the Sacklers from this post-escape barn-door maintenance would be purely symbolic. The deal would require the family to drop its opposition to the publication of an archive of its internal memos, documenting the culpability for the crimes they'll never pay for.

Members of Congress have co-signed the proposed SACKLER Act ("Stop shielding Assets from Corporate Known Liability by Eliminating non-debtor Releases"), which is a cute acronym and an important law, but it won't hurt the Sacklers' net worth at all.

And John Oliver has produced another in his signature series of outstanding explainers of the Sacklers, their villainy, and the foundational, rage-inducing injustice of their permanent ascent to the 0.001%.

A GIF from the 'conditional acceptance' scene in My Cousin Vinny. JT: 'How How 'bout if I just kick your ass?' Vinny Gambini: 'Oh, a counter-offer. That's what we lawyers - I'm a lawyer - we lawyers call that a counter-offer.'

But here at the eleventh hour, there's a chance that the Sacklers will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Family spokesvillain David Sackler has threatened to pull out of the deal altogether.

He's freaking out because nine state AGs, the DC AG, and the US Bankruptcy Trustee have refused to sign the deal, which means that at least some of the Sacklers' victims could get a day in court – and a shot at the Sacklers' fortune.

Here's the case for them caving in: "If the Sacklers litigate all of this to final judgment, it will take decades for their victims to be compensated by the family – and much of the fortune will go to lawyers."

But that's pretty weaksauce. The Sacklers' compensation package is offering fractional pennies on the dollar, relative to what a court might award to their victims.

As to whittling away the family fortune in legal fees, we're talking about billions of dollars here – no matter how many white-shoe $500/hour psychopaths they hire, there's going to be billions left when it's all done.

Hell, the billions the Sacklers have agreed to pay will trickle out on such a slow schedule that they're likely to gain more from their investments than they'll eventually pay, leaving them richer at the end of this process than they are today.

If the Sacklers make us wait a decade to take all their gold, we'll have access to all their capital gains as well as the giant principle they're sitting on right now. Plus we'll give the victims the right to confront them, and we'll reject corrosive elite impunity.

If we're worried about the survivors not being able to lay hands on the infinitesimal settlements on offer, we can make them up out of the public treasury today, and claw them back when the Sacklers are in the poorhouse.

It's a long-shot the Sacklers will let David make good on a threat to expose their fortune to every one of the people harmed while it was amassed, but I just love it when someone threatens me with a good time.

Please, David, stick to your guns.

We'll see you in court.

(Image: Geographer, CC BY-SA, modified)

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Fun Home, a memoir from the creator of Dykes To Watch Out For

#10yrsago Muphry’s Law: the inevitability of typos in discussions of proofreading

#10yrsago Rep Allen West pens “dumbest thing ever written on congressional stationery”

#5yrsago The 13 Clocks: Grimm’s Fairytales meet The Phantom Tollbooth

#5yrsago The NSA’s program of tech sabotage created the Shadow Brokers

#5yrsago Predictive policing predicts police harassment, not crime

#5yrsago Las Vegas: high unionization rates mean smaller wage-gaps for women, especially older women

#5yrsago DoJ says it will end private federal prisons

#5yrsago The incredible true story of the Epcot Horizons superfans who ruled the ride

#1yrago South Africa's copyright and human rights

#1yrago Fed cops substitute dollars for warrants

#1yrago Deindustrialization is a market failure

#1yrago Mr Cook, Tear Down That Wall

#1yrago "Fuck the algorithm"

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (

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