Aloe treatment owners seek to nullify fine

Partners say they were denied fair hearing

January 29, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The operators of a Baltimore company accused of selling an untested aloe vera treatment to critically ill people have asked a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge to nullify a $3.7 million state fine imposed in May as part of an administrative order to close up shop.

Lawyers for Allen J. Hoffman, president of T-UP Inc., and his financing partner, Neal Deoul, argued Friday that they were denied a fair hearing before the state Consumer Affairs Division ordered them to close May 5.

The order, based on Administrative Law Judge Judith Jacobson's findings, requires Hoffman and Deoul to stop claiming their aloe treatments cure diseases and to pay $1,000 fines for each of the 3,706 people who purchased the treatments from 1996 to 1998.

Lawyers for Hoffman and Deoul told Judge J. William Hinkel that Jacobson refused to hear from their expert witnesses and cut short testimony from consumers who they say benefited from the treatment.

"There was a whole wealth of information that should have been considered," said Stacie Dubnow, Deoul's lawyer.

But state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. argued that Jacobson conducted a thorough hearing, listening to 27 days of testimony and 56 witnesses and viewing 400 exhibits.

He said that T-UP targeted the state's "most vulnerable consumers" - patients who are terminally ill with cancer, AIDS and other ailments.

"I believe that if there was ever a reason for a consumer protection law, this case is it," Curran said. "To hold out false hopes to cancer patients, you just don't do that."

Aloe vera may be sold legally over the counter as a nutritional supplement, and lawyers for Hoffman and Deoul say that is all they did. But state lawyers say the two deceived consumers, collecting more than $2.3 million from April 1997 to October 1998, though the treatment had not been tested or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"They advertised it as a cure for cancer. They advertised that it was a cure for AIDS," said Philip D. Ziperman, an assistant attorney general.

Ziperman said that Hoffman and Deoul referred to themselves as "doctor" in front of customers, that they had phony diplomas and that Hoffman claimed to have conducted medical research at Johns Hopkins Hospital. But he said that neither had medical or doctoral degrees and that Hoffman worked at a Hopkins clinic as a lab technician, doing routine blood and urine tests.

"People went to them looking for help for serious medical problems. They were looking for doctors, they weren't looking for a lawyer and a lab technician," Ziperman told Hinkel.

Hoffman has formed a new company, Astec Biologics, and markets aloe vera in Hanover, Pa. He continues to believe that the treatment has significant health benefits, according to his lawyer, Michael E. Marr.

"He has a right to make statements about products that he knows to be true, and there's a wealth of evidence to show that what he says is true," Marr said.

Curran said that he has alerted authorities in Pennsylvania to Hoffman's operation and that he will pursue complaints if Hoffman sells the treatment to Maryland residents.

Hoffman is scheduled to be retried April 16 on federal fraud charges in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. A federal jury acquitted him of one count of mail fraud after a two-month trial in June but deadlocked on 19 other charges.

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