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Report: Justice Dept. says Page knew about rogue drug ads

However, the Justice Department allegations won't be aired in court now that case has been settled, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
2 min read

Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page condoned ads from rogue online Canadian pharmacies, says a Justice Department official who led the investigation into the case and talked to The Wall Street Journal about it.

Google CEO Larry Page Stephen Shankland/CNET

Earlier this week Google agreed to pay $500 million to settle the dispute with the agency over the sale of the advertising through Google's AdWords program to foreign pharmacies targeting ads at U.S. consumers. Now, Peter Neronha, the U.S. attorney for Rhode Island, tells The Wall Street Journal that it appears Page may have been aware of the sales for several years.

"Larry Page knew what was going on," Neronha is quoted as saying in an article today. "We know it from the investigation. We simply know it from the documents we reviewed, witnesses that we interviewed, that Larry Page knew what was going on."

"As we've said, we take responsibility for our actions," a Google spokesperson said in an e-mail to CNET. "With hindsight, we shouldn't have allowed these ads on Google in the first place."

Neronha reportedly said he did not plan to prosecute Page, who was Google's founding CEO and took the reins from Eric Schmidt five months ago. Nerohna declined to discuss the details of the internal e-mails and other documents that led investigators to make the claim, according to the Journal. Those documents will not be made public as they would have been if the case had gone to court.

Google began requiring online pharmacy advertisers to be certified by the U.S. government in 2009 after the Justice Department launched a sting operation in which officials found that Google employees helped undercover agents get around controls designed to stop sales of such ads, according to Neronha. Up until then Google executives told Congress that the company had controls in place to stop the illicit ads, but Neronha characterized those efforts as "window-dressing."

"Suffice it to say that this is not two or three rogue employees at the customer service level doing this on their own," he said. "This was a corporate decision to engage in this conduct."