Bankruptcy and elite impunity

The Sacklers offer billions of reasons to overthrow the system.

Cory Doctorow
7 min readJul 29, 2021


I’ve been writing about the Sackler crime-family for years, as a new generation turned the family’s benzo empire into a opioid powerhouse, exceeding the Rockefeller family fortune by pushing Oxycontin and jumpstarting an epidemic that has claimed 800,000 American lives.

The Sacklers are canny: for years, they laundered their reputation through elite philanthropy, using blood money to paint their names on the world’s great cultural institutions and spending comparable sums to threaten journalists and critics into silence about their crimes.

But no one can run across a river on the backs of alligators forever — eventually, even the fleetest grifter will lose a leg. The Sacklers eventually came into the crosshairs of district attorneys, federal enforcers, bereaved families and recovering addicts.

Outwardly, the family continued to maintain their innocence and assure us that they would prevail in court. Privately, they laundered billions into offshore financial secrecy havens.

Every big con needs a blow-off, a final trick that lets the crook wriggle out of the gator’s jaws. For the Sacklers, that was a breathtaking capture of the bankruptcy system, in the person of Judge Robert Drain of the SDNY, the American judiciary’s top billionaire enabler.

The gambit worked. Drain will unilaterally settle all the Sacklers’ victims claims for $4b, leaving the Sacklers to keep $6.7b in blood money. No Sackler will go to jail. No Sackler will face financial hardship. Key documents will never be unsealed.

Judge Drain is embracing the monstrous ideology of Josef Stalin: “Great crimes require great forgiveness.” The Sacklers cost America more lives than coronavirus — and their punishment is a $6.7b fortune.

This blow-off has attracted a lot of press attention to the way that the US bankruptcy system has been captured by the ultra-rich, who “judge-shop” for enablers like Bob Drain.



Cory Doctorow

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