Medical frauds get busted by the FBI

Three men have been arrested for a scam involving the harvesting, sale, and use of stem cells for non-FDA approved uses. A fourth man involved with the quack ring is on the run and a warrant for his arrest is still out.

The three arrested are Francisco Morales of Brownsville, Texas; Alberto Ramon of Del Rio, Texas; and Vincent Dammai of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Lawrence Stowe of Dallas is wanted in the case, but he done got away (for now).

Morales and Stowe both represented themselves as licensed physicians even though they aren’t and each ran his own quacky company (Morales ran the Rio Valley Medical Clinic and Stowe ran the Stowe Foundation and Stowe Biotherapy, Inc., which was shut down after a scathing 60 Minutes report). Stowe’s foundation and company promoted quacky uses of stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood. (The Stowe Foundation also seems to have a soft spot for energy medicine.)

The way the scam worked was as follows: Ramon, a licensed midwife at the Maternity Care Clinic in Del Rio, would collect umbilical cord blood from birth mothers at his practice. He then sold the blood to Global Laboratories of Scottsdale, AZ, who would then send the tissue to Dammai, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine in Charleston. Dammai would then use university resources to harvest the stem cells from the blood without the university’s knowledge or permission. (I would imagine he won’t be working there much longer.) He would then send it back to Global Laboratories, who would market the stem cells to treat cancer, ALS, MS, and a few other incurable diseases. (In case you’re wondering, stem cells can’t cure these diseases, although they may hold some answers for treating them in the future.)

The accused frauds made a grand total of $1.5 million for treating patients with incurable diseases with snake oil. (I’m actually surprised at how little they made, considering homeopathy has been making hundreds of millions of dollars for years and it’s just as effective and doesn’t have the allure of seeming to be based on real science, like stem cells might to the uneducated.)

I’m not sure if all stem cell scams are the same, but the one I’ve heard of most is that the stem cells are injected directly into the blood and said to just magically go where they’re needed most. From what I’ve read and been told, stem cells don’t work this way. (I’m neither a doctor nor a biologist, so I’m probably not an authority on the subject. I would recommend reading Quackwatch’s article on embryonic stem cells for a real doctor’s take on the field.)

I understand why people with incurable diseases might want to give “alternative” medicine a try: they are suffering and will cling to even the thinnest shred of hope. It’s the same reason people believe in magic and gods and the afterlife: humans need hope. However, when it comes to medicine, I urge the sick to let logic prevail. (In fact, I urge everyone to let logic prevail most of the time.) If a doctor promises a miracle cure that no other doctor you’ve seen has even mentioned, it stands to reason that the miracle medicine man is a quack. There is no logical reason for there to be a huge conspiracy to cover up perfectly viable cures for deadly or debilitating diseases. Claiming such a conspiracy is analogous to claiming that Barack Obama was born in Kenya or that the Apollo 11 moon landing was staged. There is no logical reason to believe any of this shit, and people who do are severely deluded. Listen to logic and don’t waste time or money on snake oil.

[The full story of these frauds can be found here.]


Judge to Fraud: You’re a douche

Notorious fraud Kevin Trudeau has finally got what’s coming to him! In case you’ve been living under a rock the past few years, Trudeau is one of those dietary supplement scammers. He outrageously claims that his coral calcium supplements can prevent and cure cancer. At one point he was even recommending dozens of grams of calcium a day. (In case you’re one of those people who thinks “the more the better,” you might want to look up “calculus” in the dictionary. It’s not just a math theory.) He had numerous informercials where he hocked his calcium supplement (which is several times more expensive than an equally effective store-brand supplement) until finally in 2008 he was ordered to stop advertising his supplement by the FDA. He then switched to advertising a book he wrote, which I’ve never read, but is apparently just itself a major ad for a webpage where you can buy his products. A judge found that this violated the 2008 court order and ordered him to pay almost $38 million in penalties and set up a $2 million bond in case he decides to sell snake oil again. Take that, douche!

In case you’re one of those people who swears by your dietary supplements, I hate to break it to you, but you’re wasting your dollars. Most people in America don’t need any sort of supplement unless they drink heavily or take certain drugs. Most people get sufficient nutrients in their regular diets. If you’re still unsure if you may need a supplement, I recommend you check the NIH ODS fact sheets for more information. More information on the supplement scam can be found at Quackwatch.