April 30, 2018 / 8:54 PM / 3 months ago

Doctor convicted in U.S. of obstructing Warner Chilcott kickback probe

BOSTON, April 30 (Reuters) - A Massachusetts doctor was convicted on Monday of obstructing an investigation into kickbacks paid by the drugmaker Warner Chilcott and of wrongly giving one of its sales representatives access to her patients' information.

A federal jury in Springfield, Massachusetts found Dr. Rita Luthra guilty on two of the three counts she faced following a U.S. Justice Department probe that led the Allergan Plc unit to pay $125 million as part of 2015 settlement.

Jurors found Luthra, 67, not guilty of witness tampering. Her lawyer, Stephen Spelman, said U.S. District Judge Mark Mastroianni on May 16 will consider whether to uphold the verdict.

Luthra, a gynecologist in Springfield, was one of five people charged as part of the investigation of Warner Chilcott, which pleaded guilty to healthcare fraud as part of its settlement with the Justice Department.

The verdict came after a jury in 2016 acquitted the only other person tied to Warner Chilcott who went to trial, W. Carl Reichel, its former president, who prosecutors accused of conspiring to pay kickbacks to physicians.

According to prosecutors, from 2009 to 2013 Warner Chilcott paid kickbacks to doctors in exchange for prescriptions by taking them to free dinners at restaurants and paying them fees to act as "speakers" for the drugmaker.

Prosecutors initially in 2015 accused Luthra of violating the Anti-Kickback Statute by accepting $23,500 from Warner Chilcott in exchange for prescribing its osteoporosis drugs, Actonel and Atelvia.

They alleged Luthra acted as a "speaker" for the company and on 31 occasions received $750 to hold educational events at her office attended mainly by her staff and a Warner Chilcott sales representative, who provided food.

But in August, prosecutors dropped the kickback charge and secured a revised indictment alleging she violated the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPA), engaged in witness tampering and obstructed a criminal health care investigation.

Prosecutors said Luthra wrongly gave the sales representative access to patients' protected health information so he could help fill out forms necessary to ensure insurers covered Atelvia.

The indictment accused Luthra of witness tampering by directing an employee to lie to agents with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Inspector General about sharing records with the sales representative.

Prosecutors said she also lied about why Warner Chilcott paid her, telling agents she was paid to read and opine on clinical research or to write a research paper. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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