“Socalj” for Borderland Beat
Louis Milione’s four years of consulting for Big Pharma preceded his 2021 return to the DEA to serve as Administrator Anne Milgram’s top deputy, renewing concerns in the agency and beyond about the revolving door between government and industry and its potential impact on the DEA’s mission to police drug companies blamed for tens of thousands of American overdose deaths.
Big Pharma Consulting Work
Guidepost declined to comment.
“Working for Purdue Pharma should not help you get a higher job in government,” said Jeff Hauser, the executive director of the Revolving Door Project, a watchdog for corporate influence in the federal government. “Too much collegiality is a problem. It’s hard to view your past and potentially future colleagues as scofflaws. Any independent person would find this abhorrent.”
Purdue has twice pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges for its role in fueling the opioid crisis and last year reached a $6 billion nationwide settlement aimed at staunching a flood of lawsuits from states, Milione produced a 16-page expert report in 2019 that was never introduced into evidence.
“These are the kinds of programs DEA encourages and supports manufactures,” Milione said in a statement this week that he stepped down for personal reasons unrelated to AP’s reporting. Both he and the Justice Department said he recused himself at the DEA from all matters involving his private-sector work where there was even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“I care deeply about the DEA, its mission, and the brave men and women that sacrifice so much to protect the American public,” he said.
No Senate Confirmation Loophole
Milione never faced scrutiny from lawmakers over his consulting before taking the DEA’s No. 2 position because the DEA has for more than a decade not filled the job of Deputy Administrator which requires a presidential appointment and Senate confirmation.
“DEA has demonstrated a willingness to take painstaking measures to avoid the Senate’s watchful eye – including by potentially using a technicality to shirk Senate confirmation of a key agency decision maker,” said U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
John Coleman, who was head of operations for the DEA in the 1990s, said the Biden administration likely never nominated Milione to serve as Deputy Administrator, despite his many qualifications, because his conflicts would have surely raised questions.
“Someone at the agency had to be aware of the implications of bringing someone back who was employed in the industry regulated by the agency,” Coleman said. “It was an obvious and classic conflict.”
No DEA Announcement
The DEA didn’t respond to requests for comment. The Justice Department told the AP that Milione disclosed his potential conflicts when he returned to the DEA and that the principal deputy administrator’s position was created before Milgram’s tenure. It said the process for filling the confirmed deputy administrator position is ongoing and referred further questions to the White House, which did not respond to a request for comment.
The DEA made no announcement of Milione’s most recent retirement but removed his bio from the agency’s website over the July 4 holiday and replaced it with that of his successor, career DEA official George Papadopoulos.
“I was thrilled that he agreed to come back home to DEA,” she wrote in a June 26 email obtained by AP. “Lou has used his skills as a master case maker to help us bring cases against entire criminal networks and to investigate the entire global fentanyl supply chain.”
“There’s no way to isolate that person from the day-to-day business of the agency, which includes regulating companies that make and distribute controlled substances,” said Coleman, who is now president of Drug Watch International, a not-for-profit that seeks to reduce drug abuse. “I don’t see how that’s possible.”
DEA’s Recent Turmoil
Milione’s exit adds to the turmoil at the top of the DEA following a number of other high-level departures, misconduct scandals, and the launch of a federal watchdog investigation into millions in no-bid contracts awarded to past associates of Milgram.
Mostly Republican members of Congress grilled Milgram during a routine budget request in April, and the administrator also is expected to testify later this month in a House oversight hearing looking into the DEA’s operations and effectiveness in combating the flood of fentanyl into the U.S. from Mexico.
Since Milgram took the reins of the DEA two years ago, she has cycled through almost three dozen senior aides, many of them veteran agents who were pushed out or quit due to differences with Milgram. That includes the heads of all of the DEA’s principal divisions as well as the DEA’s chief counsel, its congressional affairs liaison, and the top agent in Mexico.
Milgram’s defenders say that house cleaning is part of an agency-wide reset to combat the fentanyl crisis. She’s also exhibited a zero tolerance for racism and sexism that has festered inside the old-boy network that has long shaped personnel decisions inside the DEA.
“Change is hard and some people don’t like it,” Chuck Rosenberg, a former DEA administrator, told AP this spring. “Time will tell whether she was right or wrong, but my money is on Anne.”