After eight months, hundreds of witnesses, thousands of documents and hundreds of millions of dollars in costs, testimony in the federal government’s conspiracy case against the nation’s leading tobacco companies ended on Thursday in Washington as the defense called a final witness. Judge Gladys Kessler, who is hearing the nonjury trial, has scheduled closing arguments for next week, reports the New York Times.
On trial are Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co., a unit of Reynolds American; Philip Morris and its parent, Altria Group; British American Tobacco; Lorillard Tobacco; Liggett Group; Council for Tobacco Research-U.S.A., and the Tobacco Institute. The companies could be forced to pay billions of dollars if Judge Kessler agrees that they have engaged in fraud for more than 50 years, hiding the adverse health effects of smoking, as the government contends. If the judge rules for the tobacco companies, the Justice Department will lose an investment of more than $130 million and six years spent preparing for and prosecuting the case. The government has tried to prove that the companies acted in violation of civil racketeering laws.