DOJ accuses drug company of giving doctors fishing, Hooters 'kickbacks'

"The payments and lavish dinners given to the doctors were, in reality, kickbacks to the speakers and attendees to induce them to write prescriptions for Novartis drugs," the government claims.

The charges would violate a provision of the False Claims Act that prohibits payment to induce referrals of drugs or services that will be reimbursed by federal healthcare programs like Medicaid and Medicare.

As a result of the scheme, "Novartis reaped dramatically increased profits on these drugs, and Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal healthcare programs were left holding the bag, doling out millions of dollars in kickback-tainted claims,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in a statement.

“Kickback schemes like those alleged in this case not only call into question the integrity of individual medical decisions, but they also raise the cost of health care for all of us,” added a statement from Stuart Delery, acting assistant attorney general for the civil division.

The whistleblower case was brought by a former sales representative.

The company denies any wrongdoing.

"Physician speaker programs are an accepted and customary practice in the industry," said spokeswoman Julie Masow in a statement. "These are promotional programs designed to inform physicians about the appropriate use of our medicines."

Novartis previously settled kickback allegations in September 2010, for more than $422 million.