A former Manassas orthopedic surgeon who was convicted of defrauding cancer patients by treating them with an unapproved aloe vera substance was sentenced yesterday to two years in prison after a judge issued a scathing statement in which he called the former doctor "nothing more than a con artist."

Donald L. MacNay, 62, of Leesburg, hung his head after Prince William County Circuit Court Judge Richard B. Potter read the sentence, which came as a surprise both to the defense team and to prosecutors. Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Mary Grace O'Brien had recommended that MacNay receive probation as part of a plea agreement, under which MacNay entered the equivalent of a guilty plea to obtaining money by false pretenses from two patients and to attempting to do so from two others.

Potter sentenced MacNay to two concurrent five-year prison terms and suspended three of those years. Four of MacNay's patients--who were all terminally ill and were desperately seeking an alternative treatment for their diseases--died shortly after he injected them with an unapproved aloe vera substance in his Manassas clinic in 1997. MacNay charged thousands of dollars for the treatments. His state license to practice medicine was subsequently revoked.

Potter, likening MacNay to a "21st century medicine man," said he was concerned that MacNay had shown no remorse for his actions and in fact had demonstrated an amount of arrogance throughout the trial. MacNay was convicted in September after entering Alford pleas, in which he did not admit guilt but acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him.

"You only wanted to relieve them of their wallets and their life savings," Potter said to MacNay. "You intentionally deceived these people and intentionally defrauded them. There can be no more vulnerable victims of a scam than these patients."

MacNay, speaking softly to Potter, said he was duped by a Maryland "researcher" who assured him that the aloe vera treatments were approved and had met with success. MacNay said he believed he was participating in an approved "research program" and in turn unintentionally passed on the same misinformation to his patients.

Though he said he was "very sorry" for the harm he may have caused, MacNay stood by the alternative treatments and said he authorized them "because I thought it could help people."

In July, a federal grand jury in Baltimore indicted MacNay, his Baltimore distributor and an Oklahoma manufacturer on charges of conspiracy, fraud and introducing an unapproved drug into interstate commerce. MacNay will face 66 counts in the federal case, which is slated to begin in March.

O'Brien said MacNay's conviction in Virginia will increase any sentence he might receive if convicted in federal court.