E-mails obtained by ABC News reveal that senior executives at Johnson & Johnson's McNeil subsidiary coordinated the $400,000 Motrin purchase program from the start. The e-mails read: "Do not communicate to store personnel any information about this product. Simply visit the store, locate the product and if any is found, purchase all of the product."
An e-mail shows McNeil president Peter Luther authorizing the program, saying: "Let's make this happen asap."
The Food and Drug Administration said it had no knowledge of plans to launch the program.
FDA officials said they told Johnson & Johnson to issue a recall before the buyback program had ended. In a statement to ABC News, the agency said: "When the FDA learned that McNeil had hired contractors to secretly purchase product off the shelves, the agency advised McNeil to do a full recall, which the company agreed to initiate in July 2009."
In July 2009, McNeil began officially recalling Motrin caplets thought to be dissolving improperly.
Though FDA officials said they did not know about a "phantom recall," in e-mails obtained by ABC News, senior McNeil employees congratulated each other on receiving support for their plan to withdraw product from the market, from the FDA in Puerto Rico where the faulty Motrin was made.
"Good news," one e-mail begins. The FDA director in San Juan "is in agreement with continuing to pull product from the rest of the stores and NOT consider this a National Recall." Another e-mail says that the FDA "is really bending the rules" by not automatically urging a recall, while another e-mail calls the buyback program "a major win for us as it limits the press that will be seen."
Johnson & Johnson declined a request for an interview; however, in a statement, the company said: "McNeil kept the FDA informed of its actions and removed the product from the market in a compliant manner. However, given the concerns highlighted by the congressional committee with respect to Motrin, moving forward we would like to handle things differently."