Justice, J&J duel over Gorsky's contribution to kickback case

Alex Gorsky's name has surfaced in the U.S. government's Risperdal marketing lawsuit just weeks before he is supposed to step into the role of CEO at the healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ). The Department of Justice wants Gorsky to answer questions in its civil suit against J&J, and the company has been stymieing the effort in a struggle to keep its next chief executive out of the matter.

This is the latest chapter in the ongoing saga involving alleged kickbacks to boost use of J&J's antipsychotic Risperdal in elderly people. 

Justice officials claim that Gorsky, a J&J vice chairman who served in senior roles at the company during the years in question in their suit, might have some important info for their case. In a letter to Justice, J&J called the government's request to question Gorsky a "fishing expedition" and said it wouldn't make its CEO-to-be available to federal lawyers, Bloomberg reported.

The government's request to talk to Gorsky follows its civil lawsuit against J&J for shelling out millions of dollars in alleged kickbacks to Omnicare ($OCR) to get the pharmacy services provider to push for use of J&J drugs such as Risperdal with its nursing home customers, The Wall Street Journal reported. New Brunswick, NJ-based J&J has maintained its innocence in the case. Omnicare forked over $98 million to resolve its part in the kickback controversy, doing so without admitting guilt.

What does Gorsky know? The way Justice officials figure, he was in leadership positions at J&J and the company's Janssen unit, which sells Risperdal, at the same time alleged marketing misdeeds were committed during the late 1990s and 2000s. And he had a role in marketing activities at the company, according to the WSJ piece.  

"Mr. Gorsky did have personal involvement in some of the transactions at issue, and likely has knowledge of others--and so the United States should be permitted to depose Mr. Gorsky," Justice wrote in its request to U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns, as quoted by the WSJ.

- get more in the WSJ article
- and Bloomberg's report