A Florida doctor and his surgical funding consultant accomplice face criminal charges in connection with a national scheme to trick patients with transvaginal mesh implants into unnecessary surgery, according to a Department of Justice news release.
Dr. Christopher Walker, an Orlando, Florida urogynecologist and owner of MedSurg Holdings LLC, and Wesley Blake Barber of Detroit, Michigan, owner of Surgical Assistance Inc. and Medical Funding Consultants LLC, were charged in a six-count federal indictment filed in the Eastern District of New York in May.
Charges include one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, three counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to violate the Travel Act and one count of violating the Travel Act.
The federal indictment alleges that Barber and Walker sought to profit from women around the country who’d been implanted with transvaginal mesh and sued when they began experiencing serious side effects from the once-common surgical netting product.
Transvaginal mesh, also known as pelvic mesh, has been implanted in more than 10 million women worldwide to manage conditions such as pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence, according to an April New York Times report.
Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration banned sales of transvaginal mesh after growing reports of complications, including infections, urinary problems, bleeding, scarring and painful sexual intercourse. The product has been the subject of lawsuits nationwide.
According to the indictment, the two men sought to profit from women by convincing them to have the mesh surgically removed — because women who’d had removal surgeries were entitled to larger legal settlements than those who had not.
Prosecutors allege that Walker, Barber and others tricked the women by lying to them about the health risks of transvaginal mesh and convincing them to travel to have the procedure done by certain doctors, as Reuters reported.
Walker performed some of the surgeries while Barber’s two companies funded the surgeries, as Reuters reported. Barber’s companies issued loans to the women for their surgeries or purchased their medical debt — a scheme that allowed the co-defendants to pocket money from the women’s legal settlements. Some of the loans included “exorbitant” interest rates and required repayment even if the women never received a settlement from their implant lawsuits, as Reuters reported.
The alleged co-conspirators preyed on a common need for vaginal mesh removal surgery that was documented in a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2015. The research team followed 59,887 women and found that 1 out of every 30 women implanted with a vaginal mesh device for more than ten years required a removal or revision surgery.