WASHINGTON (AP) - The government is suing a Canadian company that charged hundreds of cancer patients $15,000 each to undergo electromagnetic treatments at a Mexican clinic, saying the company made false claims that may have cost some people their lives.
A Tijuana clinic that performed CSCT Inc.'s "cell specific cancer therapy" for at least five years was shut down by Mexican authorities as a result of a cooperative investigation between the three nations, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said Thursday.
The Canadian Competition Bureau has opened a criminal probe, a Canadian official said, but no charges have been filed.
"This is sham therapy. It has absolutely no effect on cancer cells," said Howard Beales, the FTC's director of consumer protection. "And tragically, some consumers lost a lot more than $15,000. They lost time."
Gloria Owens of Portage, Ind., put off experimental chemotherapy to try the therapy at another CSCT clinic, in the Dominican Republic, after doctors said her brain cancer was terminal, her daughter said at a news conference held by the FTC.
Her mother spent $20,000 for 10 days of the treatments, also called "Zoetron Therapy," while her condition steadily worsened, Shelia Lewandowski said at the news conference.
Feeling deceived, 61-year-old Owens returned home, no longer strong enough to walk, and died four days later, on June 1, 1998. The clinic in the Dominican Republic and another in Switzerland have since closed.
Owens' doctor said she had been more vulnerable to the clinic's promises because her brain tumor affected her judgment.
"This is absolutely wrong," Lewandowski said. "This preys on people."
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Mark McClellan said faith in the treatment had caused some people to delay therapies that could have saved their lives and caused unnecessary suffering among those who could not be saved by any means.
About 850 people received the treatments at the Tijuana clinic over five years, said the Canadian official, Don Mercer, an assistant deputy commissioner of the Canadian Competition Bureau. Most of the patients were American, and about 10 percent were Canadian, Mercer said.
The FTC's lawsuit charges CSCT with using its Internet site and telemarketing to make false claims that its treatment would shrink cancer cells in the breast, lung, brain, liver and elsewhere. The company advertised that its technique would not damage healthy cells, the way traditional treatments do.
U.S. District Court in Chicago issued a temporary injunction prohibiting CSCT from making the claims, freezing the company's assets and shutting down its Web site. The government was going to court Friday seeking to extend the injunction until the lawsuit is resolved.
CSCT officials could not immediately be reached for comment. The telephone number in a brochure promoting Zoetron was not in service Thursday, and they had yet to file a response with the federal court.
The FTC's complaint, filed Feb. 6 in Chicago, names CSCT, based in Naramata, British Columbia, as well as CSCT Ltd., based in London. It names John Leslie Armstrong and Michael John Reynolds as officers of the company.
FTC officials said Thursday that their ongoing cooperation with Canadian officials also led to a lawsuit against another Canadian company, known as National Credit Card Security, which is accused of charging $8 million on consumers' credit and debit cards without authorization over the last year.
The commission files a civil complaint when it has reason to believe the law has been broken, and a court decides the issue.
Lewandowski, who accompanied her mother to the cancer clinic in Santa Domingo, said they met many people there willing to believe CSCT's promises.
"People who went there were intelligent people," she said. "They were smart, they were funny. They believed in God. They all had one thing in common, though - they were going to die."
Federal Trade Commission: http://www.ftc.gov
2003-02-20 22:52:42 GMT