Revolving door redux: The DEA's recently departed No. 2 returns to a Big Pharma consulting firm

Washington’s revolving door kept spinning this week as the Drug Enforcement Administration’s recently departed second-in-command returned for another stint with a high-powered consulting firm where he previously advised OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma

Joshua Goodman,Jim Mustian
Wednesday 20 September 2023 18:07 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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Washington’s revolving door kept spinning this week as the Drug Enforcement Administration’s recently departed second-in-command returned for a new stint with the high-powered consulting firm where he previously advised Purdue Pharma and a drug distributor fighting sanctions over a deluge of suspicious painkiller shipments.

Louis Milione retired from the DEA a second time this summer amid reporting by The Associated Press on potential conflicts caused by his prior consulting for the pharmaceutical industry. Less than three months later, Milione again landed a plum job at Guidepost Solutions, a New York-based firm hired by some of the same companies he had been tasked with regulating when he returned to the DEA in 2021 as Administrator Anne Milgram’s top deputy.

Milione had spent four years at Guidepost prior to his return, leveraging his extensive experience and contacts from a 21-year DEA career.

“Should we say Welcome Back?,” Guidepost quipped in a social media post this week announcing Milione’s rehire as president of global investigations and regulatory compliance.

Milione is the most senior of a slew of DEA officials to have traded their badge and gun for a globe-trotting consulting job; that includes a dozen at Guidepost alone. His career stands out for two cycles through the revolving door between government and industry, raising questions about the potential impact on the DEA’s mission to police drug companies blamed for tens of thousands of American overdose deaths.

“Once someone reveals that they are willing to trade their public service expertise on the private market, they’re probably going to do it again,” said Jeff Hauser, the executive director of the Revolving Door Project, a watchdog for corporate influence in the federal government. “Knowing how lucrative that industry work can be, it’s hard to imagine he was ever truly firewalled in his emotions or self-interest from Guidepost while at the DEA.”

It’s unclear when Milione began preparing his return to Guidepost, but any employment negotiation with an entity with dealings before the DEA would have required him to file an ethics disclosure with the agency. Milione and Guidepost declined to comment about the new role. The DEA and Justice Department did not respond to questions.

Milione, 60, is perhaps best known at the DEA for leading the 2008 sting that nabbed Russia’s notorious arms trafficker Viktor Bout and, more recently, a two-year stint heading the division that controls the sale of highly addictive narcotics.

Like dozens of colleagues in the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control, he went to work as a consultant for some of the same companies he had been tasked with regulating. That included serving as a $600-per-hour expert for Purdue Pharma as it fought legal challenges over its aggressive marketing of Oxycontin other highly addictive painkillers, becoming the face of the opioid epidemic.

Pressed by members of Congress recently about her decision to rehire Milione, Milgram acknowledged she had been aware of his previous work for the drug industry but was more impressed by his legacy at the DEA.

“I asked the question of many former agents, current agents and prosecutors, who the best agent in America was,” she said during House oversight hearing in July. “The answer I got repeatedly was Lou Milione.”

But when he served as the DEA's No. 2, Milione never faced scrutiny from lawmakers over his consulting because the DEA for more than a decade has not filled the job of deputy administrator, which requires a presidential appointment and Senate confirmation. Instead, the DEA directly hired Milione to fill a career position with essentially the same duties but a slightly different title — “principal deputy administrator” — requiring no such oversight.

Milione's private-sector clientele also included Morris & Dickson Co., the nation’s fourth-largest wholesale drug distributor, as it tried to stave off DEA sanctions for disregarding thousands of suspicious, high-volume orders.

The DEA allowed the company to continue shipping drugs for nearly four years after a judge recommended its license be revoked for “cavalier disregard” of rules aimed at preventing opioid abuse. It was not until AP began asking questions this spring that the DEA moved to finally strip the Shreveport, Louisiana-based company of its license to distribute highly addictive painkillers.

Morris & Dickson is still challenging the ruling, which threatens to put the $4 billion a year company out of business. Its attorneys filed court papers this month reiterating Milione’s testimony in 2019 that the company “spared no expense” to overhaul its anti-diversion efforts.

The DEA has not explained the unusual delays in the administrative case but said Milione, after returning to the DEA, recused himself from agency business related to Morris & Dickson and other companies he advised.

“I believe in the recusal and ethics process at the Department of Justice,” Milgram told Congress. “I relied on that.”

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Contact AP’s global investigative team at Investigative@ap.org.

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