A Florida doctor and medical consultant pleaded guilty this week to federal charges stemming from a scheme to pressure hundreds of women to have their pelvic implants removed. The effort was aimed at increasing the value of personal injury claims against manufacturers of medical devices.
The guilty pleas – from Dr Christopher Walker on Friday and Wesley Blake Barber on Tuesday – end a criminal case started two years ago by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn. The two men pleaded guilty to violations of the federal travel law, a law that prosecutors have used to prosecute bribery charges in the health care profession.
Mr Barber, 51, could face at least four years in federal prison when he is sentenced in December by Judge Raymond J Dearie of the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Dr Walker, also 51, who pleaded guilty to two counts, could be sentenced to at least eight years when he appears before the judge in January. Lawyers for the two men are expected to seek less severe sentences under federal guidelines.
The scheme was one of the less recommendable aspects of the mass crime case against half a dozen pelvic net manufacturers, including Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson. The case has led to more than $ 8 billion in settlements for approximately 100,000 women in the United States. Dozens of personal injury companies have also collected billions of dollars in fees in the process.
Prosecutors accused the two men in 2019 of participating in a network to get women across the country who had pending personal injury claims against device makers to agree to hastily arranged surgical procedures for remove the implants. The pitch was that the women who had the implants removed got larger colonies than the women who still had the implants inside.
However, removing implants, a synthetic product that can bind to a woman’s internal organs, can be tricky. Some women whose nets were removed were worse off, or no better, than they were before the operation. Many women drawn to the network have undergone the procedures without obtaining a second opinion.
Mr Barber was one of the architects of the program, according to prosecutors, and a company he worked with helped organize surgeries to be performed at outpatient medical centers in Florida – some in nondescript shopping malls. The proceedings were paid for with money from high-interest cash advances arranged by a group of so-called litigation finance companies. But the women had to repay the money to these lenders after receiving the settlement proceeds.
The indictment document filed by prosecutors in 2019 said the women were unaware that Dr Walker and others who performed the implant removal surgery had paid bribes to M’s company. Barber and others for surgical references.
Brooklyn prosecutors filed charges after a 2018 New York Times article about how some women said they felt pressured to have the mesh removed by a network of personal injury consultants, marketers , lawyers and doctors. Most of the women said they did not fully understand what they had accepted.
The use of mesh to strengthen weakened pelvic muscles that can cause the bladder, uterus, and other organs in the vaginal area to sag has long been controversial. After years of complaints from women about bleeding, bladder leakage, burning pain, and other ailments, the Food and Drug Administration stopped the sale and distribution of pelvic nets in 2019 for the treatment of organ prolapse. By then, the mesh had been implanted in millions of women around the world.
“Both defendants have admitted to participating in a reprehensible corruption program to exploit women across the country,” said Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, the acting US lawyer in Brooklyn.
Dr. Walker agreed to waive approximately $ 800,000 and Mr. Barber agreed to waive approximately $ 1.1 million.
Jodi Avergun, lawyer for Dr Walker, said his client’s involvement in the program “was unfortunate” and that he “accepted responsibility for his actions in order to move forward and resume his career in s. ‘caring for patients’.
The criminal case may be over, but the civil litigation continues. In December, a lawsuit filed on behalf of 188 women who claimed to have been victimized by the network was filed in Florida circuit court. The lawsuit, which seeks damages, named about two dozen defendants, including Mr Barber, Dr Walker and other doctors.