Stories of dashed hopes in aloe trial

Cancer victim says he suffered heart attack after T-Up treatment

April 11, 2000|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

After Jerry White learned he had an advanced case of prostate cancer five years ago, he sought an alternative to traditional treatments of radiation, surgery or hormone therapy.

His search led him to a Baltimore businessman who marketed a cancer treatment that included an unapproved drug called T-Up, a concentrated form of aloe vera, a natural substance found in hand lotion, and cesium chloride, a compound used by researchers to trigger irregular heart rhythms in animals.

Several months, a heart attack and $9,000 later, White's cancer showed no signs of abating.

White, 81, traveled to Baltimore yesterday from his home in Cape Cod, Mass., with his wife, Virginia, to tell his story to a federal court jury in the criminal trial of the businessman, Allen J. Hoffman, and a man accused as his associate, Odus Hennessee of Lawton, Okla. They have been charged with fraud and conspiracy.

"I was very discouraged," White, a retired financial planner, said at the start of the second week of the trial before U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson.

White's case is one of 17 involving seriously ill cancer and AIDS patients expected to be examined during the trial.

In opening statements last week, prosecutors claimed that Hoffman took advantage of desperate patients by presenting false scientific credentials to induce them to pay excessive amounts for drugs that were not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Prosecutors said Hoffman's company collected more than $2.3 million from more than 3,500 people.

Hoffman's lawyer countered that his client didn't intend to defraud anyone. Hennessee's attorney claimed his client produced the aloe vera and did not intend it to be injected into patients. Such a use would be a violation of federal law.

Last month, Donald L. MacNay, the Manassas, Va., physician who injected T-Up into hundreds of patients, including Jerry White, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and conspiracy for his role in the scheme.

During a break in yesterday's proceedings, Harriet Hoffman, Allen Hoffman's wife, said her husband was "completely innocent," adding: "I think the true villains are the FDA, trying to discredit my husband as a scientist. I think he's being framed."

Virginia White also spoke of her husband yesterday -- as a witness in the trial.

She said her husband found out about T-Up from an unsolicited audiotape called "There is hope -- You don't have to die."

The couple said they spoke to Hoffman by phone from Menlo Park, Calif., where they were living at the time, and said he persuaded Jerry White to fly to the East Coast to have MacNay administer two weeks of T-Up injections, with oral doses of T-Up and cesium chloride.

"It sounded believable," Virginia White said. "He said he had 100 percent success."

But when she joined her husband in Virginia shortly after the treatment commenced, Virginia White said he was "very nauseous and weak." When he returned home in January 1997, "He got weaker and sicker," she said. The following month, he suffered a heart attack.

After a biopsy showed Jerry White still had prostate cancer, he underwent conventional treatment -- hormone therapy -- and the cancer is in remission, the couple testified.

In other testimony yesterday, William Mason, who helps run a support group for patients with the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome, said Hoffman appeared before the group several times to describe the effectiveness of aloe vera as a treatment for AIDS.

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