A former Novartis Pharmaceuticals sales representative will receive a whistleblower award of more than $109 million for exposing illegal kickback schemes the drug maker orchestrated to boost sales of its prescription drugs.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said the massive whistleblower award will go to Oswald Bilotta, who filed a False Claims Act lawsuit against Novartis in 2011 on behalf of the government. Federal authorities investigated Mr. Bilotta’s allegations and chose to intervene in the case in 2013.

The protracted litigation was resolved when Novartis agreed earlier this year to pay the U.S. and states affected by the kickback scheme $629.8 million to settle the allegations. Mr. Bilotta’s whistleblower award totals about 18.5% of the settlement amount.

Nothing more than bribes

The lawsuit alleged that Novartis hosted tens of thousands of speaker programs and other events under the guise of providing educational content “when in fact the events served as nothing more than a means to provide bribes to doctors,” the DOJ said in a July 1 statement about the case.

The kickback scheme spanned more than a decade and involved Novartis spending hundreds of millions of dollars to bribe doctors with “speaking fees, exorbitant meals, and top-shelf alcohol.”

According to Law 360, the DOJ specifically cited a multitude of these kickback events took place at “wineries, golf clubs and other sports venues,” adding that “Novartis even held 75 events at Hooters.”

Bribing doctors with lavish gifts so they will prescribe Novartis drugs over competing drugs and other options interferes with the duty doctors have to choose the best possible treatment for their patients. The illegal kickbacks ultimately rip off American taxpayers because they inflate the expenses of Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health care programs and increase drug prices across the board.

A serial False Claims Act violator

Law 360 points out that Novartis has reached several “huge settlements” with the U.S. government in other kickback cases, including one case in which the civil and criminal penalties alone totaled nearly $1 billion.

At the same time the DOJ announced the settlement of the Bilotta case, it announced another, separate settlement in which Novartis agreed to pay $51.25 million to resolve allegations it illegally paid the copay obligations for patients taking its drugs, which is a violation of Medicare rules. Copay requirements are intended to keep Medicare care costs in check, including the prices that drug companies can demand for their drugs.

As big as the settlement agreements, whistleblower payouts, and penalties may seem, they amount to a small fraction of the multi-billion-dollar profits that Novartis and other drugmakers pull in with illegal sales tactics. Under the current system, there is simply no incentive for Big Pharma to change its ways, which makes the whistleblower’s job ever more important. Without whistleblowers, kickback schemes and other forms of fraud would continue to go unnoticed.

Whistleblower litigation

Beasley Allen has a Whistleblower Litigation Team in place to handle False Claims Act claims. Due to our firm’s heavy involvement in whistleblower litigation, there was a definite need for the creation of a team focusing on whistleblower cases. Fraud against the federal government has been and continues to be a huge problem, involving many industries in this country, and is usually rampant in the wake of disasters requiring federal assistance, such as major hurricanes, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and, as we have seen in recent months, the coronavirus pandemic. We expect the amount of fraud against the government to increase greatly during the coming months.

As we have consistently stated, whistleblowers are the key to exposing corporate wrongdoing and government fraud. A person who has first-hand knowledge of fraud or other wrongdoing may have a whistleblower case. Before you report suspected fraud or other wrongdoing – before you “blow the whistle” – it is important to make sure you have a valid claim and that you are prepared for what lies ahead. Beasley Allen’s group of lawyers dedicated to handling whistleblower cases can help you navigate the oftentimes risky and complex litigation.

Lawyers on our whistleblower litigation team are Lance GouldLarry GolstonLauren MilesLeon HamptonLeslie PesciaPaul Evans and Tyner Helms. If you are aware of fraud being committed against the federal or state governments, you could be rewarded for reporting the fraud. If you have any questions about whether you qualify as a whistleblower, you can contact a lawyer at Beasley Allen for a free and confidential evaluation of your claim.

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