Long prison sentence for another stem cell fraud

Sapse&ContiFox News reports (and the Las Vegas Review-Journal too) that convicted stem cell fraud Alfred Sapse (see more on him & this case here and here) has been sentenced to 17 years in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $1 million in restitution.

Sapse along with pediatrician Ralph Conti (see image above from the Review-Journal) were convicted late last year for a stem cell scheme that preyed upon vulnerable patients.

Conti, 51, died before being sentenced late last year, but Sapse was placed immediately in federal custody yesterday after sentencing.

Four months after Conti’s death, the county coroner’s office announced in April they could not determine how he died. It remains a mystery. This strangely parallels the apparently still unexplained death of stem cell fraudster Laura Brown a couple years back.

According to the Review-Journal:

In a sentencing memorandum, Assistant U.S. Attorney Crane Pomerantz described Sapse as the “mastermind” behind the implant scheme.

“Sapse committed a grotesque fraud in which he convinced incurably sick people to undergo ineffective and potentially dangerous medical procedures for his own enrichment,” Pomerantz wrote.

Sounds familiar to many treatments still going on today by others, doesn’t it?

The Review-Journal continues:

During the four-week federal trial, Pomerantz alleged that Sapse paid Conti $60,000 in 2006 to perform the phony procedure on 30 patients with serious illnesses, including multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy.

Apparently the placental tissue involved in this alleged “stem cell” cure was literally washed in the “kitchen sink” as preparation for treatment. Somehow Sapse convinced a licensed physician, Conti, to start treating patients through him.

You might say these are extreme cases of stem cell fraud and criminal misconduct, but we are starting to see some themes repeating themselves in the darker side of the stem cell world including amongst active practitioners.

One trend is to move operations out of the US but keep the cash flow coming from American patients. Sapse did this according to Fox:

Once the Federal Drug Administration caught wind of the procedures, Sapse, according to Bogden’s office, moved the operation to Mexico. There, he allegedly performed the procedure more than 100 times in a three-year span.

We know many other stem cell operations do the same thing and continue to recruit predominantly American clientele. It might seem like an escape from trouble to them perhaps, but it hasn’t worked out that way overall.

Non-compliant companies recruiting American patients for treatment outside the US are in fact still liable for civil and potentially criminal charges.

Another pattern we see by noncompliants in the stem cell arena is clinics claiming they are like some kind of modern Robin Hood allegedly putting themselves at risk to help poor patients, but all the while they are taking tens of thousands of dollars and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars from individual patients.

The field saw more legal actions in another scheme earlier this year leading to convictions, pleas, and sentencing for various folks involved in non-compliant stem cell activities.

In the end I believe that outright fraudsters and those doing at best legally questionable stem cell stuff will eventually get into trouble. What they are doing is wrong and it will catch up with them.

The old expression goes that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, but I believe most of those operating non-compliant, even outright illegal stem cell businesses do not even have good intentions. Even those with good intentions have a duty to their patients to get proper training (i.e. not a 2-day weekend golf/stem cell event) and adhere to the law.

Look for more indictments, convictions, and appropriately harsh sentences in the near future for blatantly non-compliant stem cell operators. More federal criminal investigations are ongoing…..

What would federal prison be like for a non-compliant stem cell doc?

FBI symbolAbout a year ago, I heard from multiple credible sources that there were ongoing federal probes into potential criminal activities related to bogus or dangerously noncompliant stem cell medical interventions.

Since then it has been relatively quiet….that is until the last couple months when again I am hearing from several pretty solid sources that the feds are deep into investigations of multiple non-compliant stem cell operations for alleged criminal activity.

This is serious business and some of the targets are rumored to be physicians.

Federal prison will be hell for a doctor.

As a field, what can we do to make a positive difference for legit, safe, and effective commercialization of stem cell treatments?

There are many positive things one can do such as advocate for responsible innovators, which I know that many of you do.

At the same time we also need to take a stand against rogues who put patients at great risk and threaten to damage the whole field, which would harm thousands or millions of future patients as well.

Stem cell community members, if you believe a doctor might be breaking the law or endangering people via reckless, non-compliant use of stem cells, I urge you to contact the FBI tip line here.

Take a step to help other people avoid being victims.

In the mean time, the doctors reading this blog who know that they themselves are breaking the law and endangering patients, it’s time to stop. It’s not worth it. You find yourself starting to get paranoid about the FBI paying you a visit, huh?

Could they be listening in on your phone and emails like the NSA? Sure. It’s a piece of cake for the FBI these days. You didn’t go to med school and do all that hard work of residency and everything else to find yourself in this position. Time to clean up your act. Now.

Cow stem cell fraudsters sent to jail for almost killing human patients: some patients still support them

Two women in San Diego County are heading to jail after being convicted and sentenced for fraud related to stem cell treatments.The women injected concoctions of bovine stem cells from Germany and DMSO into patients. You can read the details of the original arrest here on the FBI websiteKathleen Ann HelmsAccording to a Modesto Bee article, Kathleen Ann Helms (aka Catherine Bright-Helms) pictured at right (photo from News10.com) of Encinitas, CA will spend 18 months in jail and have 18 months of supervised release.
The article says:

City News Service says a judge told 57-year-old Kathleen Ann Helms that she endangered people’s lives and nearly killed two.

Helms pretended to be a doctor and treated patients as such. Helms’ nurse, Jacqueline Smith, who pleaded guilty to practicing medicine without a license, will spend a year in jail.

Remarkably, despite the fraud and dangers treatments, some patients still support Helms.

A News10.com piece says:

“There are as many of us who really believe she saved us and sent us on the right path to being able to someday get rid of this bad disease,” said Fallbrook resident Franzie Epperson. “I’m just very supportive of her. We feel like she saved our lives.”

I find it astounding how some patients will support fraudulent stem cell practitioners who break the law and take large sums of money from them. I just don’t get it.

The News10 piece goes on to report:

Helms was charged in connection with the treatment of four patients along with a fifth uncharged victim. 

According to an affidavit filed in the case, Helms diagnosed a patient with the inflammatory illness after looking at a sample of blood under a microscope, then prescribed a treatment plan that included shots of bovine stem cells from Germany.

Helms directed the patient to go to a Tijuana hospital to have a peripherally inserted central line put into one of her arms so Helms could give treatments intravenously. The patient agreed to pay $300 for the insertion of the line and $30,000 for the treatment Helms recommended, according to the affidavit.

Another patient was misdiagnosed by Helms as having Lyme Disease when he really had prostate cancer, illustrating just reckless and dangers this situation was.

The criminal case began after patients complained to the California State Medical Board.

Meanwhile, other readers of this blog, what can we do?

Stem cell community folks (scientists, patients, advocates, families, etc), if you believe someone might be breaking the law or endangering people (including you) via stem cells, I urge you to contact the FBI tip line here as well as your state medical board.

Take a step to help other people avoid being victims.