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WASHINGTON -- U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler fined Philip Morris USA and its parent company, Altria Group Inc., $2.7 million Wednesday for deleting e-mails that may be relevant in the government's lawsuit against the cigarette industry, reported the Associated Press.
"A monetary sanction is appropriate," Kessler said in her ruling. "It is particularly appropriate here because we have no way of knowing what, if any, value those destroyed e-mails had to the plaintiff's case."
In a statement, Philip Morris called the loss of the e-mails "inadvertent" and said it was "studying its legal options." Philip Morris attorney William Ohlemeyer called the punishment harsh.
Shortly after the government filed its civil racketeering case against the tobacco industry in 1999, the court ordered the parties to preserve all documents and records containing information that might be relevant to the case. However, Philip Morris officials deleted e-mails that were more than 60 days old on a monthly basis for at least two years after that order was issued. Court records show that Philip Morris notified the court it was out of compliance with the order in June 2002, a few months after becoming aware of the problem.
The Justice Department alleges in the lawsuit that tobacco companies deceived the public about the dangers of tobacco and the addictive nature of nicotine. The government also contends that the companies made targets of children through advertising and lied about it.
The Justice Department is seeking $280 billion that it contends tobacco companies earned fraudulently. The government wants the judge to impose new restrictions on the industry, such as banning vending machines and limiting in-store promotions.