Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Executives and Professionals Are Held to a Higher Standard. What You Can Learn From Female Toyota Executive Who Resigned After Arrest for Mailing Prescription Drugs to Herself in Japan. Don't Let It Happen to You.

Executives and professionals are held to standards that are above and beyond those of the average person. For example, the company you work for or your licensing board may hold you to a standard that is higher than the standard for filing criminal charges in the United States. 

In addition, executives and professionals who travel or work abroad should be careful not to violate the laws in other countries since it could affect their careers and their liberty.  Other countries’ criminal justice systems are much different than ours and a person can spend weeks in jail before being brought to court.  

Toyota’s first-ever female executive officer, 55-year-old Julie Hamp, learned about the double jeopardy that exists when she mailed herself prescription painkillers to Japan where she was working.  She was arrested but not charged and ultimately resigned from her executive position at Toyota. She also learned about the Japanese legal system since she was in custody for over two weeks. In Japan, suspects can be detained for up to 23 days without a formal charge or the possibility of bail.

What happened here?  Ms. Hamp was arrested on June 18 on suspicion of importing an illegal pain medicine into Japan. Still transitioning from California to Japan after starting the move in early June, police claimed that Ms. Hamp illegally mailed herself over 50 tablets of Oxycodone to the Tokyo hotel she was staying at. Oxycodone is a legal prescription painkiller in the U.S. and Japan, but importing it into Japan without advance government permission is illegal and it is illegal to ship it by mail in Japan. The police conceded that Ms. Hamp was using the painkiller for health reasons (knee pain) and was not abusing it.

Japanese prosecutors said Ms. Hamp conspired with her father to import narcotics by hiding 57 tablets of Oxycodone in a package and sending it to Japan from the U.S. in June. The police claimed that the Oxycodone was not declared on the custom labels of the package and only stated that jewelry was inside. They also said that Ms. Hamp was aware that Oxycodone was tightly controlled under Japanese law.

On June 23rd, media outlets reported that the Japanese police raided the Toyota headquarters, which only raised further questions about the situation. A week later, despite support from Toyota's president that Ms. Hamp had not intentionally broken the law, Ms. Hamp stepped down from her new position. Due to being in police custody for 19 days and unable to contact the company directly, Ms. Hamp used her lawyer to tender her resignation.

Per capita, Japanese use of Oxycodone is 1/60 of American use, according to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Japanese physicians save the pain killer for extreme cases like pain from advanced cancer, meaning it can be seen as an extreme narcotic overseas.

Ultimately, Japanese prosecutors announced  that Ms. Hamp would be released and they would not be charged. Police said Hamp's intent was not malicious and reports have claimed that her father was the one who sent her the pills. If they had decided to indict her, Japanese prosecutors claim they have close to a 99 percent conviction rate in drug cases.

Toyota said it would still accept Ms. Hamp's resignation due to the concerns the situation caused their stakeholders. Overall, improperly transporting prescription drugs into another country cost Ms. Hamp a high-level position at an international company, proving the importance of understanding United States laws as well as other countries' laws before visiting them or working there. We have had clients who had prescriptions in foreign countries for controlled substances and had issues in bringing them into the United States - so it works both ways. 

When Green and Associates' law firm represents someone in an investigation, the attorney and paraprofessional staff have to consider the big picture: their career, their family, any licensing (medical license, etc.), and reputation. In the United States, there are many regulations that criminalize behavior. Many of our cases involve individuals or companies allegedly breaking rules or regulations that were not fully understood or known.

The collateral consequences of even an arrest can damage a career. For example, if a physician, lawyer, accountant, CPA, real estate agent, nurse, or other licensed professional were arrested but not charged – the governing board or bureau can start an investigation and file charges since there is a different burden of proof. “Unprofessional conduct” and “moral turptiduge” are terms that are broadly defined  and do not have to be limited to conduct that occurred on the job.

Protect your career and license that you worked hard to establish. Be careful and seek legal advice when needed to protect yourself. Reliance on the compliance advice of counsel is a defense and protection when the laws and regulations are not clear. We would rather do preventive work first and prevent potential problems. It is also far less expensive to do preventative work. Ms. Hamp learned a hard lesson and we can all learn from her unfortunate experience.

If you have any questions about your specific situation, feel free to contact attorney Tracy Green us at 213-233-2260 or email us at tgreen@greenassoc.com.

Posted by Judson O. Tomaiko, Legal Assistant (Twitter: @JTomaiko)


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