There once was a place called The Morrow Institute here in California run by a physician named David Morrow. This clinic did various kinds of cosmetic procedures and also unproven, non-FDA approved fat stem cell-related stuff too for some years.
Last month during some research on clinics I found several media links (e.g. here) from the past couple years indicating that David and his wife Linda appeared to be fugitives from justice. That was news to me. So I began looking into that and writing a post.
More broadly, there have been a number of cases where people involved in stem cell clinics or their suppliers have had issues with the law including alleged medical fraud and even some new allegations just today. More on that at the end of the post.
As I had a draft of this Morrow post nearly done, news broke that the two Morrows were apprehended in Israel. Linda has already been brought back here to the U.S. A second newspaper article has additional details and makes me wonder if David Morrow might be fighting extradition to the U.S. from Israel.
It’s a startling case of alleged and according to the DOJ in some cases admitted fraud. Check out the DOJ page about the Morrows and their flight from justice here. The DOJ page is entitled, “Fugitive Coachella Valley Doctor Who Admitted Running Cosmetic Surgery Scam that Took Tens of Millions of Dollars from Insurance Companies Sentenced to 20 Years in Federal Prison.” There is also a Morrow page on a website called Fugitive Watch here.
The DOJ post on the Morrow’s doesn’t pull any punches (emphasis mine):
“Dr. David M. Morrow, 72, a former Rancho Mirage resident whose current whereabouts are unknown, was sentenced this afternoon by United States District Judge Josephine L. Staton.
Judge Staton imposed the sentence after Morrow pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and filing a false tax return.
During today’s hearing, Judge Staton noted that Morrow’s “greed knew no bounds,” and that he showed an “utter disregard for patients’ well-being and safety.” As part of the sentencing, Judge Staton found that the intended loss from Morrow’s scheme was $44,265,211.”
Yes, that’s $44 million!
You can also see how Google lists Morrow as a permanently closed business and the 2 as fugitives in the screenshot above. Oddly enough The Morrow Institute Twitter account keeps tweeting away these days still as though nothing has happened. I wonder who is running it? I asked, but got no answer. The allegations specifically against Linda are outlined here.
What did The Morrow Institute do with stem cells? To get a taste, you can read an archive of The Morrow Institute stem cell page from WayBack Machine here. There may be more info in later archived pages. I only have one past post here on The Niche related to The Morrow Institute, but it’s worth a read. The “scam” or “scheme” mentioned by the DOJ apparently was not focused on stem cells.
Still, more than a few folks in the unproven stem cell arena, particularly related to fat or perinatal stem cell clinics, have had various issues with the law (including alleged medical fraud) and/or medical boards or other governmental regulators over the last decade or so. Not exactly a confidence builder.
Note that I do think certain clinics, including many using minimally manipulated bone marrow in a homologous manner, are compliant with FDA regs and the law, even if I’m not convinced that what they’re selling is definitely safe and/or effective. Even so, it’s a mess out there overall in the clinic world and that’s bad for the stem cell research field including biotech companies.
There was even another past fugitive case and this Morrow case of stem cell fugitives reminds me of that 2012 fraud case. From my original post on that legal situation, which was more squarely about purported stem cells, “the two defendants in the Biomark case were Americans, Stephen van Rooyen and his “supermodel” wife, Laura Brown.” Apparently van Rooyen also went by other names including Mark Dehavillan. They fled from justice. As best as I can tell, Van Rooyen was never caught as he is still listed as a most-wanted fugitive. Scroll down about 80% down the page to see his listing. His wife Laura was reported dead, but I never saw any confirmation of that or the circumstances.
Remarkably, another super tangled stem cell clinic-related situation just broke today involving a company called Predictive Technology ($PRED), which apparently sells unproven purported birth-related stem cells. Investors shorting the company have made many allegations about PRED including in part related to their stem cell offerings. I’m probably going to do a separate post on the company after getting more familiar with the situation. I don’t know if the allegations are true, but they are concerning to me.
Looking ahead, in a broader sense I predict that we’ll see more criminal charges in the U.S. and/or elsewhere against at least a few additional unproven stem cell clinic folks in coming months and years. Some allegations may be directly related to stem cells, but others could involve different issues.