A Las Vegas man who misrepresented himself as a retired physician convinced more than 100 chronically ill patients to undergo experimental stem cell implant procedures that he claimed could cure incurable diseases, federal agents say.
Authorities say Alfred T. Sapse, 84, formed a corporation called Stem Cell Pharma Inc. in May 2005 to give the impression that he ran a legitimate pharmaceutical company, the Las Vegas Sun reported.
Special agents with the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations arrested Sapse on July 15 and charged him with seven counts of mail fraud, 13 counts of wire fraud and criminal forfeiture. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on each count, as well as forfeiture of money or property up to $913,748.
He was released after appearing before a federal magistrate judge on a personal recognizance bond until his trial.
According to the indictment, Sapse issued dozens of press releases claiming to have developed a procedure that extracts stem cells from human placentas to treat severe diseases like multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and retinitis pigmentosa — claiming to do so by implanting portions of placental tissue, which he said were obtained from cesarean section births, into patients’ abdomens.
He reportedly told patients and investors that he had achieved “considerable success” with the procedure, while concealing the adverse effects that previous patients had suffered, such as infection and worsening of their symptoms.
Sapse, who has never been licensed to practice medicine in the U.S., claimed to be a retired foreign physician who studied at the Filatov Institute of Eye Diseases and Tissue Therapy, a prestigious clinic in Odessa, Ukraine, according the the Sun.
He never got Food and Drug Administration approval for the implementation procedure and made false representations, as well as telling others to do the same, to investigators with the FDA concerning his role in the scheme, according to the indictment.
Sapse is accused of hiring a pediatrician with no prior stem cell training, referred to as "Physician C," to perform the procedures. Between February and November 2006, Physician C reportedly performed about 34 procedures on extremely sick patients in Las Vegas.
Sapse allegedly relocated to Mexico in February 2007 and operated out of a Mexican physician’s office in Nuevo Progreso. Another physician, known as “Physician G,” performed the procedure on approximately 100 patients between February 2007 and May of this year, authorities say.
Sapse allegedly didn’t follow-up with patients and collected no data. He didn’t spend any of the approximately $1 million that he received from patients and investors on laboratory research or clinical studies. Instead, authorities say, he spent $700,000 of it on gambling and other personal expenses.