Doctor pleads guilty in scheme to market unapproved drug

Aloe vera-based treatment was sold to terminally ill

March 30, 2000|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

A 62-year-old physician pleaded guilty to federal charges yesterday in a scheme that convinced dying people that a highly experimental, unapproved drug could save their lives.

Donald L. MacNay, who helped treat hundreds of people across the country with a drug derived from aloe vera extract, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to mail fraud and conspiracy to produce an unapproved drug.

"They used the Internet, they used mass mailings, they used radio broadcasts in order to tout the virtues of aloe vera for terminally ill patients," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Virginia B. Evans.

But the drug, called "T-Up" and manufactured by a Baltimore company, had no medical value to cancer and AIDS patients, who were the main customers to whom MacNay and his partners marketed the drug, court papers said. MacNay often falsely told patients and others that the drug had been approved the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, court papers said.

MacNay, whose practice was based in Manassas, Va., could receive between 46 and 57 months in jail under federal guidelines at a June 2 sentence hearing. Virginia medical authorities said the unapproved T-Up treatments may have been a factor in the deaths of three people. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the FDA investigated the case.

James Wyda, a federal public defender who represents MacNay, said he hopes to provide people with a better understanding of the doctor and his motives at the sentencing.

"It's a very sad day for Dr. MacNay. He's been a physician for over 30 years," Wyda said. "We look forward to telling the whole story about Dr. MacNay and the circumstances and motives for what happened."

Court papers allege that MacNay and his partners, T-Up company president Allen J. Hoffman and Oklahoma cosmetic laboratory owner Odus M. Hennessee, 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, court papers said.

Hoffman and Hennessee also face federal charges in a trial to start in Baltimore next week.

Augustus F. Brown, the attorney for the family of a Port Deposit truck driver, Douglas Crabbe, said yesterday that the aloe vera treatments made Crabbe uncomfortable in the months before his death from cancer in April 1997. The aloe vera brought about vomiting and swelling of the skin, Brown said.

"It deeply affected the lives of his family," Brown said. "Not only were they saddened to see him in such horrible pain, but they had been led to believe these treatments offered some hope. It was a lie."

Crabbe paid $12,000 for the aloe vera treatments. Patients took the drug either orally or had it injected.

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