Doctor Gets Prison for Kickbacks on Pacemaker Use

From Times Wire Services

A prominent Rhode Island cardiologist has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $70,000 for accepting kickbacks from a Sylmar firm to implant unneeded pacemakers in heart patients.

Dr. Felix Balasco, 46, of Providence, was convicted of extorting $4,400 from Pacesetter Systems Inc. of Sylmar by threatening not to implant the firm's pacemakers. On Jan. 17, in U.S. District Court in Providence, Balasco was found guilty of extortion, conspiracy and two counts of Medicare fraud.

"Needless, outrageous harm was caused by Dr. Balasco's rapacious greed for money," Judge Raymond Pettine said as he passed sentence Friday. "He has now destroyed himself as a doctor."

The Rhode Island Board of Medical Review revoked Balasco's license after hearing testimony that Balasco implanted pacemakers in at least 28 patients with normal hearts and falsified medical records to justify the surgery. Balasco filed a Superior Court action challenging the revocation.

Pacesetter officials testified that Balasco received $400 per pacemaker for 11 transplants performed at Kent County Memorial Hospital during December, 1980.

The case against Balasco was an offshoot of the earlier prosecution of Pacesetter Systems, one of the nation's largest manufacturers of pacemakers.

In February, 1984, the former president and vice president of Pacesetter were indicted on federal charges of paying kickbacks to get doctors to use the company's products. In February, 1984, they pleaded guilty and were fined $42,500 and placed on probation.

Prosecutor Ellen Meltzer urged Pettine to impose the 10-year jail term and maximum fine, saying, "We cannot describe the harm that has been caused."

Pettine rejected defense pleas for probation in lieu of a prison sentence. Balasco's lawyer, Joseph Balliro, called the 10-year term "mind-boggling." Pettine freed Balasco on $100,000 bail until May 9.

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