Fraud suspect defends actions

He is accused of cheating customers with untested cure for AIDS, cancer

May 23, 2000|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Allen J. Hoffman rattles off medical terms with confidence of a doctor, which is exactly what he was called by many of the people who sought the Baltimore businessman's aloe vera treatment for everything from AIDS to cancer.

Hoffman's credentials consist of a high school equivalency diploma and an associate's degree from Baltimore City Community College. His other degree is a doctorate in philosophy, which he describes as an honorary diploma from a German university, although he paid a fee for it.

His lack of medical credentials did not restrain Hoffman from promoting an aloe vera product he developed as a potentially life-saving treatment. Telling his story for the first time yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Hoffman said he became convinced of aloe's healing powers. His goal was not making money, he said, but "making people well."

Federal prosecutors have portrayed a different picture of Hoffman and his Baltimore-based company, T-UP Inc. In one of the first criminal cases in the country focused on alternative medicines, Hoffman, 53, is charged with fraud for allegedly duping people into buying an untested and possibly dangerous product.

In a separate state consumer protection case, Hoffman and his financial partner were ordered this month to pay $3.7 million in fines and make restitution to more than 3,000 customers who the state determined were part of a widespread fraud.

For the past six weeks, jurors in the federal case have heard from people who say the aloe product Hoffman sold made them even sicker and from others who say it cured them. Yesterday, the panel heard from Hoffman.

Hoffman has had some medical training, according to his testimony. He joined the Army in 1963, and trained as a medic.

After leaving the Army, he returned to his hometown, Baltimore, enrolled in classes at Baltimore City Community College and was a medical technician at a private laboratory, he testified.

In 1971, a few months after his wedding, Hoffman said, he went to work at a laboratory at the Johns Hopkins University.

According to testimony yesterday, Hoffman earned his associate's degree at Baltimore City Community College and later took courses at what was then Towson State University. He said that he received the honorary doctorate from the University of Heidelberg, Germany, in recognition of his research.

After leaving Hopkins in 1978, Hoffman said, he worked for a series of private labs until 1989, when he launched his first business venture. He proposed to several doctors that he perform the lab work they needed directly in their offices.

It was on one such assignment that he discovered aloe vera, he said.

Hoffman testified that he was eating a sack lunch at a doctor's office in Pennsylvania when he stumbled across a few old articles about the healing power of aloe.

He said he quickly became convinced that aloe held out promise and started working full-time on developing and promoting an aloe product, first working with an AIDS support group in Baltimore and later attracting new "patients" who were seeking alternatives to treatments like chemotherapy or intrusive surgeries.

Eventually, he paired the aloe with the mineral compound cesium chloride, marketing the treatment as a powerful way for sick and dying people to build their immune systems, he testified.

He said he viewed himself as the bearer of good news. "To doubt it is to lie to yourself," said Hoffman, who will face prosecutors' questions today.

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