Man pleads guilty in aloe case

He accepts charge he distributed drug with intent to defraud

Treated over 3,000 people

September 22, 2001|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

In one of the few criminal cases involving alternative medicine, a businessman in Baltimore who treated critically ill patients with an aloe vera concoction pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday to two counts of distributing an unapproved drug with intent to defraud the public.

Allen J. Hoffman, 54, of Finksburg treated more than 3,000 people during the late 1990s and could be sentenced to up to six years in prison and more than $500,000 in fines, and restitution to his patients or their families under the plea agreement.

"This is a significant conviction ... because people like Hoffman target vulnerable victims," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Virginia B. Evans, who said Hoffman singled out AIDS and cancer patients for treatment. "This [conviction] sends a clear message to the alternative medicine community that you cannot engage in false statements to promote your product."

Hoffman appeared reluctant to accept the plea agreement, which was entered in U.S. District Court in Baltimore yesterday. In a trial last year, Hoffman was acquitted of one count of mail fraud, but the jury deadlocked on 19 other counts.

He told U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson that he never meant to cheat anyone and was accepting the deal to save his family from further scrutiny.

"I would never in my life defraud anyone," said a tearful Hoffman. "I want [the government] to do whatever they want to do with me, to destroy me. I just want to get this over with."

At one point yesterday, he appeared on the verge of rejecting the plea agreement negotiated between his lawyers and the government.

"I don't even know what I'm doing here. ... I don't think this is right," Hoffman said before his court-appointed lawyer, Richard D. Bennett, tugged on his sleeve, apparently to silence him.

Prosecutors alleged that Hoffman, through his Baltimore-based T-Up Inc., treated patients with T-Up, a mixture of aloe vera, a natural substance found in many lotions, and cesium chloride, a compound that can trigger irregular heart rhythms in animals. It was never approved by the Federal Drug Administration for treating cancer or other diseases.

In March, a Baltimore County Circuit judge upheld a state Consumer Protection Division order that T-Up Inc. be closed and pay a $3.7 million fine.

Hoffman also treated patients through another business, Astec Biologics Inc. in Hanover, Pa. A federal judge barred the business from selling T-Up in February.

Hoffman, who allegedly claimed that he had a Ph.D, also sent out brochures titled "Boost Your Immune System" and audiotapes titled "There Is Hope! You Don't Have to Die!" He also had some patients go to Tijuana, Mexico, the Bahamas and Virginia to receive expensive intravenous injections of T-Up, prosecutors said at trial.

One of Hoffman's former clients who testified against him, 82-year-old Gerry White, said yesterday that he was "ecstatic" at news of Hoffman's guilty plea.

"I'm going to celebrate tonight, that's for sure," White said in a telephone interview yesterday from his Cape Cod home.

White, who spent $9,000 for T-Up in late 1997 to combat prostate cancer, said the pills made him feel like he'd had "six martinis."

"I couldn't walk down the hall without banging into the sides," he said. "I felt terrible. I couldn't eat right; I couldn't exercise."

Two other men were charged with Hoffman in the scheme. Dr. Donald L. MacNay, a Manassas, Va., physician who was accused of injecting T-Up into hundreds of patients, pleaded guilty last year to mail fraud and conspiracy for his role and received a 17-month sentence. And in June last year, Odus Hennessee, an Oklahoma man who grew and processed the aloe vera, was acquitted of federal fraud charges in Baltimore.

Hoffman is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 30.

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