However, the reporter, Alex Berenson, quickly dispelled any notion of keeping it under wraps.
"And I said, you know, are you kidding me? Of course I'm going to use it," Berenson said in a recent public radio interview about the exchange.
The e-mail, which was intended for another lawyer whose last name also was Berenson, helped the Times reporter break the story of Lilly's negotiations with the government over the marketing of its Zyprexa schizophrenia drug.
The settlement under discussion amounted to $1 billion, the Times reported, but no public announcement has ensued.
In the radio interview, Berenson said he almost overlooked the e-mail among the spam, and that it simply said, "Eager to catch up." But the thread of five emails referenced discussions between Lilly and a U.S. attorney and what the e-mail called a "stratospheric" figure.
What about the confidentiality agreement at the bottom of the e-mail? "Those things have no legal standing, so, you know, I just ignored them," Berenson said.
Berenson said the e-mail was intended for Brad Berenson, a second cousin who works at another law firm handling the Lilly negotiations.