When doctors diagnosed esophageal cancer in Douglas Crabbe and told him that he had, at best, two years to live, he and his family began to search for a miracle.

Traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy could have extended his life, doctors said, but a cure was out of reach. In December 1996, shortly after his diagnosis, Crabbe stumbled upon information that gave him new faith. He and his wife, Deanna, read about a therapy that promised to save him.

A lawsuit filed in Prince William County Circuit Court this week claims that the therapy the Crabbes found -- intravenous aloe vera treatment -- was a hoax designed to give terminal cancer patients a glimmer of hope while draining them of thousands of dollars. The lawsuit names the Manassas doctor who administered the therapy as well as the manufacturer and the distributor of the aloe vera substance, asking for millions and saying that Douglas Crabbe's death was hastened by the treatments.

The principal defendant in the lawsuit, Donald L. MacNay, also faces criminal charges in Prince William in connection with his administration of intravenous aloe vera to patients in his local clinic. Authorities have linked at least four deaths to MacNay's use of the substance, and he has been charged with multiple counts of false pretenses for taking money for the treatments. MacNay, an orthopedic surgeon, lost his medical license as a result of the unapproved treatments.

MacNay and his attorney could not be reached for comment.

Reston attorney Robert T. Hall, who is representing the Crabbe family in the pending civil lawsuit, said this week that Douglas Crabbe was essentially lured into believing that aloe vera was a "miracle cure" that would heal his cancer. Hall alleges that MacNay worked in cooperation with T-Up, a Maryland company, to recruit patients in order to finance a business deal in Costa Rica.

"These were probably the most desperate folks with hopeless conditions who were told that their conditions were likely going to be fatal," Hall said Thursday, referring to MacNay's patients. "They were seduced into the aloe vera treatments under the promise that it would cure them. It was just a bogus treatment."

Hall said Crabbe went to MacNay after he mail-ordered oral doses of aloe vera from an Oklahoma company and then from T-Up. In conversations with T-Up managers, who Hall alleges worked with MacNay to get patients, Crabbe was persuaded to go to MacNay's Manassas clinic for intravenous treatment.

At that point, according to the lawsuit, MacNay told the Crabbe family that "by this time next year you will be laughing about this."

Crabbe was treated for 21 days in MacNay's clinic, Hall said, and at no point was there any improvement in his condition. Crabbe died one week after returning to his Maryland home.

"In Crabbe's case, it gave him hope, false hope, and directed him away from life-extending chemotherapy," Hall said. "It made him miserable in the process, and it weakened him so that the cancer got him earlier. He went severely downhill after the last treatment."

The lawsuit alleges that MacNay and his suppliers are responsible for hastening Crabbe's death by defrauding him and misrepresenting the possible outcomes of the treatment. The lawsuit claims that the whole ordeal severely disrupted Crabbe's family -- including his wife and three sons -- and that all parties involved "devised and intended to devise a scheme to defraud and extort money from persons who were critically ill with cancer."

The lawsuit also names MacNay's assistant, Ronald Sheetz, of Manassas; Allen Hoffman and Neal Deoul, of T-Up Inc.; and Odus Hennessee of Cosmetic Specialty Labs Inc. of Lawton, Okla. T-Up, Cosmetic Specialty Labs and Hoffman Enterprises Inc. in Baltimore also are named in the lawsuit.