A Danville chiropractor has been ordered to pay $1,125,000 to settle a multi-jurisdictional prosecution stemming from a nationwide health care marketing fraud.
Dr. Benjamin Altadonna made or caused to be made a traction device which he "sold or leased for between $90,000 and $115,000," according to the Alameda County District Attorney's office.
The D.A.'s office filed a civil lawsuit in 2010 to stop Altadonna from marketing a spinal traction device known as the DRX-9000. The Alameda County D.A. was joined by district attorneys from Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, Orange, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Solano and Sonoma counties.
The complaint filed by district attorneys claims that Altadonna and his company, Altadonna Communications, Inc., promoted the DRX-9000 as "patented," "breakthrough medical technology," "approved by the FDA," and "developed by NASA." All of these claims were false, according to D.A. Nancy O'Malley's office, which said the DRX-9000 was merely a motorized traction device for the treatment of low back pain.
The district attorneys' investigation showed that Altadonna received commissions from the manufacturer of the DRX-9000 to sell the device to health care professionals. Altadonna created and sold "professional practice building" products to health care professionals, using the DRX-9000 as a centerpiece for his professional clients. The D.A.'s office also said Altadonna "taught them how to pressure patients to commit to advance purchases of expensive treatments on the DRX-9000."
In addition, the D.A.'s office said Altadonna's marketing materials targeted a vulnerable class of patients including those suffering from chronic, severe back pain.
"In California, health care professionals have a duty to verify claims used to promote their services. We will not tolerate predatory marketing techniques by health care professional aimed at unsuspecting and vulnerable patients." O'Malley said. "Consumers should be wary of products and services that make unrealistic health care claims that sound too good to be true and lack adequate substantiation."
The state of Oregon fined Altadonna for similar practices.
Altadonna entered into an agreement with Oregon's attorney general in 2007, requiring the chiropractor to change his marketing practices and to provide "reliable scientific evidence such as tests, analysis, research, studies ... based on the expertise of professionals in the relevant area" to back up his claims, which Altadonna never did.
The Alemeda County D.A.'s office said Altadonna used pseudonyms to sell and disseminate "thousands of marketing plans to thousands of licensed health care professionals inside and outside the State of California."
After a 2006 meeting with the Monterey County D.A., Altadonna began transferring assets to co-defendants Altadonna Living Trust and Diablo Park LLC.
The final judgment was signed on March 20 and permanently blocks Altadonna from violating or helping others violate the state's health care marketing laws. In addition to the payment of $1,125,000 in civil penalties, costs and restitution, the settlement requires Altadonna to comply with a court-ordered injunction to prevent him from committing future unfair or deceptive business practices.