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Report: Stent Maker Gave Doctor BBQ, Crab Feast

WASHINGTON (WJZ) -- A new federal investigation reveals the questionable relationship between a local doctor and a major medical supplier. 

The powerful head of the Senate Finance Committee slammed a once-prominent cardiologist for putting heart stents in patients who didn't need them.  The federal investigation found a coze relationship between Dr. Mark Midei and the manufacturer of those lucrative stents.  Mike Hellgren has more.

The report found the manufacturers of stents make billions of dollars every year and that Abbott Labs paid Dr. Mark Midei to promote stents after St. Joseph Medical Center stopped him from practicing there.

At the sprawling home of Dr. Mark Midei in Monkton, Abbott Labs--one of the biggest stent manufacturers--paid thousands of dollars for dinners, including a pig roast, crabs and beer.  One party was just two days before an Abbott executive praised Midei for setting a record for implanting heart stents in patients.  But several months after that last dinner, Midei would have a dramatic fall.

The emails and financial records WJZ obtained as part of a Senate investigation reveal the doctor used more stents than almost any cardiologist in the northeast.  Scandal centered on Midei when his employer, St. Joseph Medical Center, sent out letters notifying hundreds of Midei's patients that their stents may not have been needed.

"This was a case of black and white where Dr. Midei clearly violated standard procedure," said Jay Miller, a lawyer for the patients.

What the Senate investigation found disturbing was after St. Joseph stopped Midei from practicing, Abbott sent him on trips around the world to promote their stents.  Internal documents WJZ obtained show Abbott paid Midei thousands as a consultant.

The report said, "The serious allegations lodged against Dr. Midei regarding the medically unnecessary implantation of cardiac stents did not appear to deter Abbott's interest in assisting him."

Midei has always denied any wrongdoing.

"I'm confident in everything that I've done, every decision that I've made," he said.

The Senate investigation found stent operations come at a high cost to taxpayers, with $25.7 billion billed to Medicare between 2004 and 2009 alone.

St. Joseph recently paid the federal government $22 million in a settlement over unnecessary stents without admitting liability.

"From the government's perspective, we bring these cases only when we believe we have a meritorious case," said Rod Rosenstein.

Abbott is the world's second biggest stent maker, with $1.67 billion in sales this year.

The company said in a statement, "Dr. Midei has been a highly regarded physician in his field, with whom Abbott had consulted in the past.  We have no further comment at this time."

Adam May has more with executives trying to shut the story down.

An email surfaced during a Senate investigation.  The target tells WJZ it says a lot about the pharmaceutical industry.

Abbott Laboratories bsed in Chicago is a $30 billion a year pharmaceutical company.  They make well-known products like Similac and Ensure.  They also make the stents which have been the focus of a Senate investigation into alleged unnecessary heart surgeries performed at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson.

When the Baltimore Sun published a column on the scandal, a vice president of Abbott wrote a colleague, "Don't you have connections in Baltimore??? Someone needs to take this writer outside and kick his ass!  Do I need to send the Philly mob?"

"I would hate to think the pharmaceutical industry is taking out contracts on people that get in their way," said columnist Jay Hancock.

"I think it may say something about their perceived ability to write the rules of the playing field, to influence Congress, to heavily lobby doctors to prescribe their products," Hancock said.

Abbott Labs said the email was an inappropriate personal communication between colleagues and not meant to be taken seriously.  When asked, they claim they don't have connections to the mob.  The author of the email is still employed and they will not release any replies to the email.

"If the response was, `Aye aye boss, I'll put the assignment in tomorrow,' it would have been a little upsetting," Hancock said.  "I don't think these are Philly mob guys.  They wield a lot of power, they're intimidating in their own way, but I don't think in a `take Jay out in the parking lot and beat him up' way.  At least I hope not."

Abbott Labs say they have apologized to Jay Hancock and claim they are addressing the issue internally.

Hancock will have a column on the threatening email in Tuesday's Baltimore Sun.

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