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The Federal Government Plans To Seize Nebraska’s Illegal Execution Drug Shipment When It Arrives In The U.S.

A letter from the FDA explains that the shipment would be illegal. The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services expects the drug to arrive sometime in the next week.

Posted on June 17, 2015, at 5:34 p.m. ET

Nati Harnik / AP

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts address the Legislature, which recently abolished the death penalty.

Nebraska's next shipment of execution drugs may never arrive. That's because the drugs are from a foreign supplier and the U.S. government is prepared to seize them.

The state, in fact, should be expecting this.

Earlier this year, Nebraska approached Chris Harris, a small supplier in India who has sold drugs to the state before, to sell massive amounts of sodium thiopental so the state could execute the 10 people remaining on its death row.

"Please give me a call when you have time to discuss," Nebraska Corrections Director Scott Frakes recently wrote to the would-be supplier of the state's execution drugs.

His email contained an attachment: a 2013 court ruling that spells out that the drugs the state spent more than $50,000 on would not be allowed into the United States.

Nebraska Department of Correctional Services

The drugs aren't approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and the court ruling that Frakes attached makes it clear that the FDA has no choice but to seize the drugs when they come to the states.

The shipment, enough for hundreds of lethal injections, is expected to arrive any day now, according to public records and emails obtained by BuzzFeed News.

Nebraska Department of Correctional Services

But Harris said he couldn't talk to Frakes about his email — he wrote that he didn't have network coverage where he was, so he couldn't call that night.

It's unclear whether the two connected.

The Department of Correctional Services did not respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment on what Frakes and Harris discussed, or whether they made any changes to the drug shipment.

The exchange between the Nebraska official and the India-based drug supplier occurred just one day after the FDA approached the Department of Correctional Services and made it clear that the drug deal was illegal.

"I am writing you today because of media reports that the state of Nebraska has recently purchased and perhaps received sodium thiopental from an overseas source," Domenic J. Veneziano, the director of the Division of Import Operations within the FDA, wrote.

"There is no FDA approved application for sodium thiopental, and it is illegal to import an unapproved new drug into the United States," he added.

The controversy over the foreign drug supplier and illegal drugs comes just weeks after the Nebraska legislature repealed the death penalty in the state. In spite of that, Gov. Pete Ricketts believes he will be able to execute the men currently on death row.

Ricketts and Attorney General Doug Peterson have previously said that the 2013 court ruling does not apply to the state because Nebraska wasn't a party to the case. But the court ruling forces the FDA to stop importation of illegal drugs, meaning that Nebraska not being a party to the lawsuit would be irrelevant.

This isn't the first time Harris has sold execution drugs. And it isn't even the first time Nebraska has bought them from Harris. In the previous instance, the state couldn't use the drugs after questions were raised over the legality of the sale.

In the letter the FDA sent last month, Veneziano pointed out that Nebraska should have been aware that the drug deal wouldn't be legal, as he notified a former Corrections director of the ruling years ago.

Nebraska Department of Correctional Services

Emails obtained by BuzzFeed News show Nebraska may not be the only state that bought execution drugs from Harris this time around. As part of his sales pitch to Nebraska, he mentions "a few" other states that he's manufacturing for.

Nebraska Department of Correctional Services

Harris declined to speak with BuzzFeed News, because reporters "always say what is not true."

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