A federal grand jury in Baltimore has indicted a former Manassas doctor, a Baltimore distributor and an Oklahoma manufacturer for allegedly conspiring to defraud terminally ill cancer patients from around the country by treating them with an unapproved aloe vera solution.
Donald L. MacNay, 62, a former orthopedic surgeon; Allen J. Hoffman, 52, owner of Baltimore-based T-UP Inc.; and Odus M. Hennessee, 50, president of Cosmetic Specialty Labs Inc., of Lawton, Okla., are accused of promoting the aloe vera solution as a cure for cancer, HIV and AIDS, herpes and various autoimmune disorders.
MacNay lost his license to practice medicine last year after Virginia investigators suggested that the treatments hastened the deaths of four patients. The patients traveled to the Piedmont Orthopedic Clinic in Manassas, where MacNay allegedly charged them thousands of dollars to inject the solution. The intravenous use of aloe vera is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is illegal in the United States.
Federal prosecutors allege that Hoffman's company marketed the T-UP solution through mass mailings and attracted customers using an audiotape titled "There is Hope: You Do Not Have To Die!" and a brochure titled "Boost Your Immune System."
"Giving people false hope in their greatest time of need is really insidious," said Lynne A. Battaglia, the U.S. attorney for Maryland. "Anyone who knows someone who has had cancer will be personally affected."
Sue Lowery, of Chilton County, Ala., whose husband, Thomas F. Lowery, 57, had prostate cancer and died about three weeks after he was treated by MacNay, broke into tears yesterday when she learned of the indictments.
"Oh, dear God, there is justice," Lowery said. "There are so many of us out there. We've been hoping."
Lowery said she remembers the glimmer of hope in her husband's eyes when the couple first heard the T-UP audiotape.
"You listen to, 'There is Hope,' and you hear a girl running up to Dr. Hoffman and saying, 'You saved my daddy's life,' " Lowery said. "I was always skeptical, but my husband believed in it. It was his last hope."
According to the indictment handed down this week, T-UP was distributed nationwide from September 1996 through November 1997 at a cost of about $75 for a two-ounce bottle and about $12,000 for two weeks of intravenous treatments.
Investigators say MacNay and Hoffman told patients and their families that the treatments were FDA-approved. The pair even appeared on a Virginia radio show in August 1997, touting T-UP as a cure for cancer, the indictment states.
MacNay and Hennessee could not be reached for comment yesterday. An attorney for Hoffman and T-UP did not return telephone calls.
Hoffman, MacNay and Hennessee are each charged with conspiracy, five counts of introducing an unapproved drug into interstate commerce, four counts of mail fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud.
The conspiracy count and each count of mail or wire fraud carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Each count of introducing an unapproved drug carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
MacNay also faces prosecution in Prince William County, where he was indicted last year on charges of defrauding patients. If convicted after a scheduled September trial, he faces a prison sentence of up to 160 years.
The Maryland attorney general's office last year charged Hoffman and T-UP with consumer fraud in connection with the marketing of T-UP. A spokesman for the office said evidence in the case was presented to an administrative law judge in June and a decision is pending.
CAPTION: Donald L. MacNay appeared last year before Virginia's medical board, which revoked his license.