Company: Serono (now Merck Serono, owned by Merck KGaA)
Settlement amount: $704 million
At the time that Serono pleaded guilty to two felony charges in 2005 for marketing misbehaving with the growth hormone used to treat wasting in HIV patients, it was the largest settlement of its kind. It has clearly been eclipsed since then. The settlement, which says the company played loose with the rules from 1996 through 2004, came ahead of a $13.2 billion acquisition of the Swiss company in 2006 by Merck KGaA ($MRK).
Part of the Serono deal was a "conspiracy" loop with RJL Sciences, which made a device for measuring body cell mass, to help each other boost business. But more egregious was its offer to cover the expenses to a medical conference in Cannes, France, for doctors who wrote 30 new prescriptions. At $21,000 per course for the drug, the deals could generate $630,000 per doctor.
One of the features of the settlement noted at the time was that the agreement allowed Serono to continue to sell to U.S. government programs, including Medicaid; the program was accused of cheating. It did that by limiting the criminal plea to one U.S. subsidiary, Serono Laboratories.