LOS ANGELES – Prosecutors brought fraud charges Thursday against a doctor accused of promising terminally ill cancer patients in their darkest hours that they would be cured with an herbal treatment.
Using her influence as an ordained Pentecostal minister, Dr. Christine Daniel tapped into the vessel of faith to entice people from across the nation to try her regimen. She even appeared on cable's Trinity Broadcasting Network in 2002 touting her cancer cure and its 60 percent success rate, according to federal investigators.
Authorities arrested Daniel, 55, at her San Fernando Valley home Thursday and charged her with two counts each of wire and mail fraud. If convicted, she faces up to 80 years in prison.
In court documents, authorities contend Daniel took advantage of patients who desperately sought alternative measures after enduring draining rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.
In all, federal prosecutors said Daniel siphoned about $1.1 million from 55 families between 2001 and 2004. Six patients ranging in age from 4 to 69 died within seven months after seeing Daniel.
"This is an example of a doctor who is preying upon the most vulnerable people in our society," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns. "These patients were told they were being cured, but they were being eaten alive by cancer."
A phone message left for Daniel's attorney, Manuel Miller, was not immediately returned. Daniel was scheduled to appear in federal court Friday.
Prosecutors said Daniel concocted a remedy known, among other names, as "C-Extract" that she claimed would help treat cancer and other afflictions such as multiple sclerosis, hepatitis, and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.
Some of her patients were drawn to her from her appearance on TBN's "Praise the Lord." Daniel told viewers she collected herbs from around the world, and, when they were combined with prayer, there was a good chance their cancer could be cured.
"We have seen the dead raised," Daniel said on the broadcast, according to the indictment.
After spending a long night by her mother's hospital bed in October 2003, Christiana Kwakye was channel surfing when she came across a testimonial about Daniel's treatment.
Kwakye, 41, of Minneapolis, cobbled together money with her four siblings and paid about $3,500 for a shipment sent from Daniel's offices. Her mother, Margaret Antwi, who traveled from Africa and was diagnosed with melanoma, drank the brown liquid. Afterward, Kwakye called a number and prayed with a woman on the other line.
"At that stage, you do anything," Kwakye said. "I should have known better. My mental state wasn't clear at that time."
Antwi's family bought another round of medicine that cost about $5,000 after Daniel bumped them up to a higher concentration that was supposed be more effective. Antwi died a couple of weeks later at age 62. She had been hopeful Daniel's treatment would work as promised, Kwakye said.
"I struggle with the fact that she (Daniel) wasn't true," she said. "Being a doctor, they do no harm. Why would she do that?"
Others who tried Daniel's nostrums were Minna Shakespeare, who had seen Daniel on the TV show in December 2002. The 49-year-old Hanover, Massachusetts, resident contacted Daniel shortly thereafter and was told by the doctor to stop her chemotherapy because it didn't work, according to an affidavit filed by the Food and Drug Administration.
She stopped chemotherapy and paid Daniel about $13,000 for the cancer treatment. When Shakespeare felt the new treatment wasn't working, she claims Daniel told her to go back on chemotherapy as well as continue the herbal solution, court documents show.
Shakespeare died in 2003. Her husband, Easton, sought a refund from Daniel and reported her to a local consumer's council. The council forwarded the complaint to the California Medical Board, which is still investigating Daniel. A phone message left for Easton Shakespeare was not immediately returned.
Other patients traveled to California and stayed at local motels while they were being treated, court documents show.
Prosecutors said Daniel even fleeced other clergy. In late 2003, George McKinney, who founded St. Stephen's Cathedral Church of God in Christ in San Diego, agreed to have his wife, Jean, treated by Daniel. The couple moved into their son's home in Los Angeles, and Jean McKinney took an herbal mixture three to four times a day for her terminal colon cancer.
Daniel also used a heat machine that was supposed to reduce the tumor, authorities said. The couple paid Daniel more than $100,000. Jean McKinney died in June 2004.
A phone message seeking comment from George McKinney wasn't returned.
Daniel was interviewed by investigators in August 2004, and she denied ever practicing alternative medicine for cancer, court documents show. She also attested that she never talked about a 60 percent cancer cure rate on television.
Daniel's arrest comes nearly two weeks after Orange County prosecutors charged a Las Vegas man with multiple felony counts after he also allegedly claimed he could cure cancer and urged patients to stop chemotherapy. Daryn Peterson, 37, is not licensed by the Medical Board of California.