August 9, 2010 / 10:47 PM / 7 years ago

Judge lets US join St Jude whistleblower case

* US says had “good cause” to intervene in case

* Whistleblower alleges kickbacks

* St Jude has said would defend against lawsuit

NEW YORK, Aug 9 (Reuters) - A federal judge has given the United States permission to join a lawsuit by a former St Jude Medical Inc STJ.N worker who accused the maker of pacemakers and other heart devices of involvement in a kickback scheme.

U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock in Boston granted the U.S. request on Monday, nearly five years after federal investigators opened a probe into alleged kickbacks relating to St. Jude and Medtronic Inc (MDT.N), another large maker of implantable devices.

In an Aug. 5 court filing, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz had written that while the government had in December 2009 declined to intervene, it now had “good cause” to do so following additional witness interviews and document reviews.

According to a complaint filed in January, the plaintiff Charles Donigian believes St. Jude paid kickbacks to doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers to induce them to prescribe its products, and the providers then submitted reimbursement claims to Medicare and other federal programs.

In addition, Donigian alleged that St. Jude would pay professionals “sham fees” for fake clinical research studies, and provide them with improper gifts such as tickets to sporting events or junkets to luxury resorts.

Donigian has said he worked as a St. Jude technical service specialist in the St. Louis area from the fall of 2004 to the spring of 2007.

St. Jude had objected to the government motion, and spokeswoman Amy Jo Meyer on Friday said the St. Paul, Minnesota would “vigorously defend” against the lawsuit.

Whistleblower cases, sometimes known as qui tam cases, are a means for people who believe companies have defrauded the government to file suit. These people can share in settlement or other payments that companies may make.

Woodlock ordered the government to file its complaint by Aug. 31, and set an Oct. 27 hearing in the case.

The case is U.S. ex rel. Charles Donigian vs. St Jude Medical Inc, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts, No. 06-11166. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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