Providence, Rhode Island (CNN) -- The Justice Department on Monday announced the distribution of a record $500 million civil fine paid by the Internet search engine giant Google in the wake of what the government called the unlawful sale of prescription drugs over the Internet. Google, the Justice Department said, was on notice as early as 2003 that online pharmacies were advertising prescription drugs online to users in the United States, but failed to prevent the practice.
The penalty is one of the largest paid by a private company and stemmed from a three-year investigation into Google. Both controlled and noncontrolled prescription drugs were sold over the Internet, the Justice Department said, and "Google was also on notice that many pharmacies accepting an online consultation rather than a prescription charged a premium for doing so."
A CNN investigation in 2008 first disclosed the ease and widespread availability of prescription drugs obtained with just a few clicks of a computer. That investigation showed doctors approving many of the prescriptions without seeing or even talking to potential patients over the telephone. CNN Correspondent Drew Griffin did a Google search and ordered the drug Prozac over the Internet. The drugs were delivered the next day
In his announcement Monday, U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha said a total of $230 million of the Google payment would go to local Rhode Island police departments, about 46% of the total. The remaining funds will be deposited, he said, into the Justice Department's Assets Forfeiture Fund.