Prisoner Helped Feds in Sting Operation Against Google AdWords Pharmacy Ads ScamOn january 25, the Wall Street Journal provided additional details of last year’s sting operation against AdWords, that made Google acknowledging and compelled to pay $500 million. In the settlement, Google acknowledged that they should have not have allowed the online pharmacies to run certain advertisements:
“We banned the advertising of prescription drugs in the U.S. by Canadian pharmacies some time ago. However, it’s obvious with hindsight that we shouldn’t have allowed these ads on Google in the first place.”
The federal investigation, which alleged that Google was aware of online pharmacies illegally selling drugs such as Steroids, HGH, Oxycontin, and Ritalin to individuals without prescriptions, used a convicted felon by the name of David Whitaker in a four-month sting to build a strong case against Google — who has a history of fraud and criminal activity since the age of 16. After he fraudulently sold millions of dollars of Apple iPods in 2005 with no intent to fulfill the orders, Whitaker used the money for private jets and to rent a mansion. Eventually, in order to avoid being arrested, he fled to Mexico and started an illegal pharmacy.
While in custody and being guarded by federal agents, Whitaker used a pseudonym (Jason Corriente) to begin using AdWords to promote a website, www.sportsdrugs.net, that the government had created to sell HGH and steroids.
“Google first rejected it, along with an anti-aging website called www.NotGrowingOldEasy.com. But the company’s ad executives worked with Mr. Whitaker to find a way around Google rules, according to prosecutors and Mr. Whitaker’s account.
The undercover team removed a link to buy the drugs directly–instead requiring customers to submit an online request form–and Google approved it. “The site generated a flood of email traffic from customers wanting to buy HGH and steroids,” Mr. Whitaker said.”
Whitaker said the following regarding his interactions with Google:
“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 sting expanded to include new websites, including one that sold the controversial abortion pill RU-486 — a pill that can only be taken in doctors’ offices. The WSJ reports that Google approved ads for that site, too.
“Google’s ad team in Mexico approved the site, so U.S. consumers searching for “RU 486&Prime would see an ad for the site. Google ad executives allowed the agents to add the phrase “no prescription needed.“”
“Google has a natural long-term financial incentive to make sure that the advertisements we serve are trustworthy so that users continue to use our services, and we aren’t afraid to take aggressive action to achieve that goal,” the company said.
To end the sting, federal agents killed off Mr. Whitaker’s fictional character. They sent the Google employees a final email, allegedly from Jason Corriente’s brother, saying the online entrepreneur died in a car crash.
Mr. Whitaker, who pleaded guilty and faced a maximum 65-year prison term, was sentenced in December to six years, following what federal prosecutors called “rather extraordinary” cooperation.