First it was Johnson & Johnson (see here – $70 million in combined fines and penalties in April 2011). Then it was Smith & Nephew (see here - $22 million in combined fines and penalties in February 2012). Next up in the sweep of the medical device industry – based on the enforcement theory that certain foreign health care providers are “foreign officials” – is Biomet. Biomet (here) is an Indiana-based company that designs, manufactures and markets products used primarily by musculoskeletal medical specialists in both surgical and non‐surgical therapy.
Total fines and penalties in the Biomet enforcement action were approximately $22.8 million ($17.3 million via a DOJ deferred prosecution agreement, and $5.5 million via a settled SEC civil complaint).
In substance, the information begins as follows. “Argentina has a public healthcare system wherein approximately half of hospitals are publicly owned and operated. Health care providers (“HCPs”) who work in the public sector are government employees, providing health care services in their official capacities. Therefore, such HCPs in Argentina are ‘foreign officials’ as that term is defined in the FCPA.” “Brazil has a socialized public healthcare system that provides universal health care to all Brazilian citizens, and the majority of hospitals are publicly-controlled. HCPs who work in the public sector are government employees, providing health care services in their official capacities. Therefore, such HCPs in Brazil are ‘foreign officials’ as that term is defined in the FCPA.” “China has a national healthcare system wherein most Chinese hospitals are publicly owned and operated. HCPs who work at publicly-owned hospitals are government employees, providing health care services in their official capacities.”
The information charges one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA, three substantive FCPA anti-bribery charges (one charge focused on conduct in Argentina, one charge focused on conduct in Brazil, and one charge focused on conduct in China) and one charge of violating the FCPA’s books and records provisions.
As to the conspiracy charge, the information alleges that between 2000 to 2009, Biomet and others conspired to “secure lucrative business with hospitals in the Argentine, Brazilian, and Chinese public health care systems by making and promising to make corrupt payments of money and things of value to publicly-employed HCPs.”
According to the information, it was part of the conspiracy that “Biomet, certain of its executives, employees, and subsidiaries” – (1) “agreed to pay publicly employed Argentine HCPs 15-20 percent commissions in exchange for the purchase of Biomet products” (2) “agreed to pay Brazilian HCPs 10-20 percent commissions through Brazilian Distributor [a Brazilian company that had exclusive distribution rights for Biomet reconstructive products in Brazil] in exchange for the purchase of Biomet products” and (3) “agreed to pay Chinese HCPs commissions through Chinese Distributor [a Chinese company that acted as a distributor of Biomet products in China], and paid for travel for Chinese HCPs, in exchange for the purchase of Biomet products.”
The information also alleges that it was further part of the conspiracy that at the end of Biomet’s fiscal year from 2000 to 2009 “Biomet, its executives, employees, and subsidiaries falsely recorded the payments on its books and records as ‘commissions,’ ‘royalties,’ ‘consulting fees,’ ‘other sales and marketing,’ and ‘scientific incentives,’ in order to conceal the true nature of the payments in the consolidated books and records of Biomet Argentina [a wholly-owned Argentine subsidiary of Biomet through which Biomet conducted business in Argentina], Biomet International [a wholly-owned Delaware subsidiary of Biomet through which Biomet sold products into Brazil], Scandimed [a wholly-owned Swedish subsidiary through which Biomet sold products into China and elsewhere], and Biomet China [a wholly-owned Chinese subsidiary through which Biomet sold products into China], which books and records were incorporated into the books and records of Biomet for purposes of preparing Biomet’s year-end financial statements, which were filed with the SEC …”.
The information alleges as follows. “In total, from 2000 to 2008, Biomet, Biomet Argentina, Biomet International, Scandidmed, and Biomet China, and their related subsidiaries and employees, authorized the payment, directly or indirectly, of at least $1.5 million, some or all of which was paid to publicly-employed HCPs to induce the purchase of Biomet products.”
As to Argentina, the information largely focuses on internal e-mails or memos which indicated that “royalties are paid to surgeons if requested” and that the payments “are disclosed in the accounting records as commissions.” The information details a 2005 internal investigation into certain allegations of improper conduct, but alleges that thereafter problematic payments continued to be made. For instance, a 2007 internal e-mail states as follows. “Doctors receive a ‘consulting fee’ for every surgery.” According to the information, in August 2008 “Biomet distributed new compliance guidelines that emphasized the FCPA and related issues, and the company’s managing director for Argentina sought advice from the company’s lawyers, causing Biomet to suspend payments to Argentine doctors.”
As to Brazil, the information largely focuses on internal e-mail or memos noting that the Brazilian Distributor was paying commissions to doctors and that the Brazlian Distributor admitted that it “paid doctors for buying Biomet products and described the payments as ‘scientific incentives.”
As to China, the information discusses various internal e-mails which reference: the China Distributor “paying a 10-15% ‘rebate’ to surgeons on the sale of Biomet artificial hips;” a Scandimed employee stating that, regarding commissions to surgeons, “Scandimed has no control over this … as we understand it, giving commissions or gifts of various kinds to surgeons is common in China;”the China Distributor stating that a “Doctor will become the most loyal customer of Biomet if we send him to Switzerland”; and the China Distributor stating as follows – “Doctor is the department head of [public hospital] and that Doctor uses about 10 hips and knees a month and its on an uptrend, as he told us over dinner a week ago … Many key surgeons in Shanghai are buddies of his. A kind word on Biomet from him goes a long way for us. Dinner has been set for the evening of the 24th. It will be nice. But dinner aside, I’ve got to send him to Switzerland to visit his daughter.” The information also references a distribution memo which states that “Chinese surgeons typically receive a commission on sales, which can range from 5% to 25% and that distributors are expected to hold banquets for surgeons and to sponsor meetings.” Another internal e-mail discusses “consulting fees paid to doctors for conducting clinical trials” and a “proposal for a two week visit for Chinese doctors to the United Kingdom, with the second week being a ‘holiday’ paid for by Chinese Distributor.” The information also alleges that in October 2007 “Biomet China sponsored the travel of 20 surgeons to Barcelona and Valencia for training, including a substantial portion of the trip being devoted to sightseeing and other entertainment at Biomet’s expense.” According to the information, in 2005 “Director of Internal Audit [based in Warsaw, Indiana] instructed an auditor to classify improper payments being made to doctors in connection with certain clinical trials as ‘entertainment’ and in 2007, the product manager for Biomet China sent an e-mail to [an Associate Regional Manager based in Hong Kong] “discussing ways to evade efforts by the Chinese government to halt corruption in health care by requiring all international companies to declare actual cost for import to the government, noting, ‘obviously, China government doesn’t have ability to forbid the corruption from hospitals & surgeons …’ and proposing four methods for avoiding the regulation, including falsified invoices.
The DOJ’s charges against Biomet were resolved via a deferred prosecution agreement. Pursuant to the DPA, Biomet admitted, accepted and acknowledged “that it is responsible for the acts of its officers, employees and agent, and wholly-owned subsidiaries” as set forth in the information.
The term of the DPA is three years and it states that the DOJ entered into the agreement based on the following factors: Biomet investigated and disclosed to the DOJ and SEC the misconduct, “a portion of which was voluntarily disclosed”; Biomet reported its findings to the DOJ and SEC; Biomet cooperated fully in the DOJ and SEC investigation; Biomet undertook remedial measures, including the implementation of an enhanced compliance program and agreed to undertake further remedial measures as set forth in the DPA; Biomet agreed to continue to cooperate with the DOJ, SEC, and foreign authorities in any related investigations; “Biomet has cooperated and agreed to continue to cooperate with the DOJ in the DOJ’s investigations of other companies and individuals in connection with business practices overseas in various markets;” and “were the DOJ to initiate proseuction of Biomet and obtain a conviction, instead of entering into the agreement to defer prosecution, Biomet would potentially be subject to exclusion from participation in federal health care programs pursuant to 42 USC 1320a-7(a).”
Pursuant to the DPA, the advisory Sentencing Guidelines range for the conduct at issue was $21.6 – $43.2 million. The DPA states as follows. “Biomet agrees to pay a monetary penalty in the amount of $17.28 million, a 20 percent reduction off the bottom of the fine range. Biomet and the DOJ agree that this fine is appropriate given Biomet’s extensive internal investigation, the nature and extent of Biomet’s cooperation in this matter, Biomet’s cooperation in the DOJ’s investigation of other companies … and Biomet’s extraordinary remediation.” The guidelines calculation notes that Biomet received a credit for “substantial assistance in the prosecution of others.”
Pursuant to the DPA, Biomet agreed to engage an independent compliance monitor “for a period of not less than 18 months” and to provide periodic reports to the DOJ regarding remediation and implementation of the enhanced compliance measures as described in an attachment to the DPA. As is customary in FCPA DPA’s, Biomet agreed that it shall not make any public statement contradicting its acceptance of responsibility.
See here for the DOJ’s release.
The SEC’s settled civil complaint (here) against Biomet is based on the same core conduct as described above. In summary it alleges “violations of the FCPA by Biomet and four of its subsidiaries to obtain sales for their medical device business” and that from “2000 through August 2008, Biomet and its four subsidiaries paid bribes to public doctors employed by public hospitals and agencies in Argentina, Brazil, and China.”
Among other things, the SEC’s complaint alleges that “executives and auditors at Biomet’s Indiana headquarters were aware of the Argentine payments to doctors as early as 2000.” The SEC alleges as follows. “Internal audit took no steps to determine why royalties were paid to doctors purchasing Biomet medical devices, or why the payments to the doctors were 15-20 percent of sales. The internal auditors did not obtain any evidence of services provided for the payments. In fact, the internal audit report concluded that there were adequate controls in place to properly account for royalties paid to surgeons without any supporting documentation.” Elsewhere, the SEC alleges that “despite the bribery” [the] Latin America Auditor’s only recommendation was to change the journal entry from ‘commission expenses’ to ‘royalties.’”
The SEC complaint references the September 2007 letter “Commission staff” sent to Biomet ”inquiring of payments made to public doctors” but that “while the inquiry was underway in certain countries, additional conduct was occurring at Biomet Argentina.” For instance, the complaint alleges that in March 2008, “Managing Director of Biomet Argentina again reported the payments to surgeons to internal compliance personnel but no efforts were made by compliance to stop the practice.”
As to Biomet’s FCPA anti-bribery violations, the SEC complaint alleges that “Biomet employees who were U.S. nationals approved the payments to Argentine doctors and the arrangements with the Brazilian Distributor and Chinese Distributor that included payments to doctors.”
As to Biomet’s failure to maintain adequate internal controls, the complaint alleges as follows. “Biomet failed to implement internal controls to detect or prevent bribery. Biomet and four subsidiaries were involved in bribery that lasted for over a decade. The conduct involved employees and managers of all levels involved in Biomet’s sales in Argentina, Brazil and China. False documents were routinely created or accepted that concealed the improper payments.”
Based on the above allegations, the SEC complaint charges violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and books and records and internal controls provisions.
As stated in the SEC’s release (here), without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Biomet consented to the entry of a court order requiring payment of approximately $4.4 million in disgorgement and approximately $1.1 million in prejudgment interest.
The SEC’s release states as follows. “Biomet’s compliance and internal audit functions failed to stop the payments to doctors even after learning about the illegal pratices.” Kara Brockmeyer (Head of the SEC’s FCPA Unit) stated as follows. “A company’s compliance and internal audit should be the first line of defense against corruption, not part of the problem.”
In this release, Biomet’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Jeffrey R. Binder, stated: “Biomet has long been committed to upholding the highest standards of ethical and legal conduct both in the United States and abroad. Over the past several years, we have significantly enhanced our global compliance procedures and financial controls, and we fully intend to work with the independent monitor and the Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission to bolster our FCPA compliance practices and procedures. Moving forward, we intend to continue to adhere to our enhanced global compliance procedures, and to promote the Company’s commitment to the highest ethical standards in all the markets that we serve.”
As to the origins of the FCPA inquiry, Biomet’s most recent quarterly filing stated as follows. “On September 25, 2007, Biomet received a letter from the SEC informing the Company that it is conducting an informal investigation regarding possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the sale of medical devices in certain foreign countries by companies in the medical devices industry. [...] On November 9, 2007, the Company received a letter from the Department of Justice requesting any information provided to the SEC be provided to the Department of Justice on a voluntary basis.”