Prosecutors Are Said to Issue Subpoenas Over Pelvic-Mesh Surgery Financing
By: Matthew Goldstein & Jessica Silver-Greenberg
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn are intensifying an investigation into allegations that a network of doctors, lawyers, financiers and consultants lured women into having pelvic mesh implants removed, according to the two people familiar with the matter.
In the past month, the prosecutors have issued subpoenas seeking information about whether women had been tricked into undergoing unnecessary surgery and whether doctors or others had received improper payments, said the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to do so publicly.
The prosecutors, from the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York, began making informal inquiries about the network this year after The New York Times reported that hundreds of women may have been pressured into getting the implants removed to improve their odds of winning large cash settlements in lawsuits against the manufacturers.
A spokesman for Richard P. Donoghue, the United States attorney in Brooklyn, declined to comment.
The Florida attorney general’s office, in an emailed statement, said it was also investigating the matter but declined further comment. Many of the procedures in question were performed at walk-in medical centers in the state and were arranged by consultants there.
Millions of women around the world have received mesh implants to correct a condition called pelvic organ prolapse, which occurs when a woman’s organs fall and press against her vagina because of weakened pelvic muscles. That causes urinary and other problems. The mesh reinforces the pelvic wall.
The devices have helped many women without incident, but tens of thousands have said they were harmed by the products and have joined so-called mass tort lawsuits against the companies that made them.
The women were flown to Florida, put up in motels and operated on by doctors they often met for the first time the day of their surgery. All costs were paid by finance firms in return for a portion of settlements the women might ultimately receive from makers of the devices, including Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson.
Law Cash, which is based in Brooklyn, was one such firm.
George Arzt, a spokesman for Law Cash, which specializes in providing cash advances to consumers with active personal injury lawsuits, said the firm did not comment on “investigations real or imagined.”
Many of the women were represented in the mass tort suits by a Minnesota law firm, McSweeney Langevin. The law firm’s engagement letters with clients often included a clause requiring that disputes between it and its clients be resolved through arbitration.
One client of the McSweeney firm is now suing her lawyers there, Law Cash and others, claiming they misled her about the need to get the mesh removed. The woman, who lives in Arkansas, won a court victory last month when a federal judge in Little Rock denied a move by McSweeney to force the matter into arbitration.
The federal judge, James Moody Jr., called the arbitration agreement between the woman, Jerri Plummer, and the law firm “unconscionable.”
The judge said the law firm and its agents “somehow got their hands on Plummer’s cellphone number and, after instilling fear of death in her, solicited her to not only undergo a surgical procedure in another state, but also to allow them to represent her.”
A lawyer representing the McSweeney firm said no decision had been made on whether to appeal the ruling in the Arkansas case.