October 26, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Long prison sentence for another stem cell fraud

Sapse & Conti, stem cell fraud
Sapse & Conti.

Fox 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…..including into fraud.

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