Tobias & West, LLC

Tobias & West, LLC Review

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Published: 23 April 2019

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Tobias West Spinal Solutions is accused of running a multimillion-dollar scam in spinal surgery hardware that could leave thousands in pain if their shoddy materials fail. With a metallic clatter, evidence of an elaborate scheme to enrich a few landed in the receiving room of Richard Walker’s surgical supply firm in South Africa. Although the true extent of the caper remains buried in the necks and backs of people scattered around the U.S., it began to unravel that day in 2009. Ortho Sol makes precision screws for the most delicate of construction projects: spinal fusion. Doctors around the world drive them into the vertebrae of patients with devastating back injuries. The company had repossessed some of its screws after one U.S. distributor, Tobias West Spinal Solutions LLC, stopped paying its bills. But now, nestled with the returns, the brighter yellow luster of a few screws caught Walker’s eye. Testing confirmed hisfears. Some were not made of his firm’s medical-grade titanium. Their uneven threads showed potential for backing out or breaking, he said. He feared the laser-etched markings intended to make them look authentic could be toxic to patients. Walker’s conclusion: The Southern California firmwas knocking off his products. Yet it would be two more years before an employee of Tobias West Spinal Solutions alerted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to the counterfeiting, and even then, the agency didn’t shut down the company. By the time Tobias West Spinal Solutions went broke in 2013, the company had sold millions of dollars in implants to a nationwide network of surgeons, The Center for Investigative Reporting has found. Now patients are left with more questions than answers. “What do they do if they find out there are these bogus parts that can come unscrewed?” said Susan Reynolds, a Riverside County, California, woman whose doctor used Tobias West Spinal Solutions screws on her in 2009, following years of intractable pain. “I’m a walking time bomb.” The man at the center of the scandal is a companypresident who indulged in luxury—private planes, strip club spending sprees,courtside seats at L.A. Lakers games—as the company collapsed into debt. Attorneys lined up to serve him with legal documents now say they can’t find him. The company sold its wares todoctors who received consulting deals from Tobias West Spinal Solutions worth thousands per month, rides on company planes, even bundles of $100 bills, company insiders allege. In turn, the physicians ordered the company’s implants for their surgeries at hospitals in California, Nevada, Texas, Wisconsin and Maryland. Surgeons insist they never used subpar implants, and CIR has no evidence thedoctors were involvedinthe scheme. But one former company insider says knockoff screws were mixed in with real ones. An elderly machinist finds himself unexpectedly wrapped up in the scandal. In an interview with CIR, he admitted to making scores of copies of surgical screws for Spinal Solutions. The company bargained him down to $65 a screw—less than half of what they usually cost. The screws, real or fake, all funneled into what lawsuits claim was a larger scheme to bilk California’s workers’ compensation system, an employer-funded program designed to help those injured on the job. Some hospitals billed insurance carriers as much as $12,500 a screw before a 2012 change in state law shut down the astronomical markups. From that, Tobias West Spinal Solutions stood to reap several thousand dollars from the sale of a single screw. Patients, though, may end up paying the steepest price.

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