Businessman indicted in cancer-cure fraud

Va. doctor also charged with peddling aloe vera to terminally ill clients

July 08, 1999|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

For a terminally ill cancer patient, the audio tape had an appealing title: "There is Hope. You Do Not Have to Die."

But U.S. postal inspectors say the message illegally misled dying people into paying $12,000 for an unapproved drug. A Baltimore businessman and a Virginia doctor were indicted yesterday in connection with a scheme that prosecutors described as deplorable.

"They raised the hopes of cancer patients, and that is insidious," said Lynne A. Battaglia, the U.S. attorney for Maryland. "What these patients got was an unapproved drug."

The drug was "T-UP," supposedly a concentrated form of aloe vera -- a natural substance used in ointments and hand lotions -- that was wrongly billed as a cure for cancer, AIDS, herpes and other immune disorders, according to court papers unsealed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore yesterday.

Charged with mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiring to introduce an unapproved new drug into interstate commerce was Allen J. Hoffman, president of the Baltimore-based company T-UP Inc.

Also charged with the same offenses were a Manassas, Va., doctor, Donald L. MacNay, and an Oklahoma cosmetic lab owner, Odus M. Hennessee.

According to documents filed by the Maryland Attorney General's office, which has filed a consumer protection claim against the company, the men collected more than $2.3 million from T-UP sales between April 1997 and October 1998. During that time, 3,706 people paid for the treatment, the complaint alleges.

The federal indictment alleges that the three men promoted T-UP in mass-mailings of promotional materials, including the audio tape and a brochure titled "Boost Your Immune System." They also touted the treatment on interstate radio broadcasts, videotapes and the Internet, court papers said.

Patients took the drugs orally or intravenously, depending on MacNay's advice, the indictment alleges. A two-week intravenous treatment cost $12,000 and a two-ounce bottle of aloe juice cost $75, court papers said.

"The promise of a cure was too seductive for desperate, dying people to resist," said attorney Robert T. Hall, of Reston, Va., who is representing the family of a deceased Maryland man, Douglas Crabbe, who took the treatment.

Crabbe was told by doctors that he had 18 months to live with terminal cancer. He sought alternative treatment with T-UP before his death. His family has sued MacNay, claiming that Crabbe was misled into believing he could be cured.

"He was told that in a year he would be laughing at what the other doctors had told him," Hall said.

MacNay's lawyer couldn't be reached.

Levi Rabinowitz, a Baltimore-based media consultant and spokesman for T-UP, said it was too early to comment on the case.

The indictment alleges that MacNay, Hoffman and Hennessee also misled consumers about their educations, medical backgrounds, experience and credentials to make people buy T-UP.

It also claims the men told the patients and their families that the drug was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which was not true. Investigators with the FDA worked with postal inspectors in the case.

Mail fraud and wire fraud carry maximum penalties of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Introducing an unapproved drug into commerce is punishable by up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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