By Lauren Folino
Google Inc. will pay a half billion dollars to the United States. The agreement follows a Department of Justice investigation that found Canadian pharmacies were illegally selling prescription drugs to American consumers via ads distributed by the search giant’s advertising arm, Google AdWords.

The settlement, which represents one of the largest forfeitures of its kind in U.S. history, resolves any forthcoming action by the DOJ to bring criminal charges against Google for allegations that the company improperly profited from the Canadian pharma ads, which led to the illegal import of prescription pills into the United States, according to Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha.

“This investigation is about the patently unsafe, unlawful importation of prescription drugs by Canadian online pharmacies, with Google’s knowledge and assistance, into the United States, directly to U.S. consumers,” said Neronha.

According to DOJ prosecutors, the shipment of prescription drugs from abroad into the United States violates a number of federal laws. Prescription drugs shipped to America from Canada are not subject to supervision by Canadian regulatory authorities.

Although Google issued a statement acknowledging its wrongdoing in allowing Canadian pharmacies to advertise drugs to American consumers, prosecutors say that feds have been familiar with the company’s allowance of the AdWords program facilitating unlawful drug sales from Canada since 2003. Canada was the only country abroad allowed to market to U.S. consumers via online pharma ads.

“We banned the advertising of prescription drugs in the U.S. by Canadian pharmacies some time ago,” Google’s statement said. “However, it’s obvious with hindsight that we shouldn’t have allowed these ads on Google in the first place.”