Small antitrust lawsuit explodes into investigation of alleged price-fixing involving at least 16 companies and 300 drugs

Executives at more than a dozen generic-drug companies had a form of shorthand to describe how they conducted business, insider lingo worked out over steak dinners, cocktail receptions and rounds of golf.

The “sandbox,” according to investigators, was the market for generic prescription drugs, where everyone was expected to play nice.

“Fair share” described dividing up the sales pie to ensure that each company reaped continued profits. “Trashing the market” was used when a competitor ignored these unwritten rules and sold drugs for less than agreed-upon prices.

“This is most likely the largest cartel in the history of the United States,” according to Joseph Nielsen, assistant attorney general and antitrust investigator in Connecticut, who has been a leader in the probe.