LOS ANGELES – The owner of a Mission Hills medical clinic who sold a bogus cancer cure to dozens of victims across the country as part of a “treatment” program that prosecutors said was “despicable, cruel and heinous” and hastened the death of some patients was sentenced today to 14 years in federal prison.
Christine Daniel, 58, of Santa Clarita, who operated a clinic under names such as the Sonrise Wellness Center, was sentenced to 168 months in prison by United States District Judge Robert J. Timlin, who remanded Daniel into custody following today’s hearing. In addition to the prison term, Judge Timlin ordered that Daniel forfeit a total of $1,277,083.
Following a federal court trial in September 2011, a jury convicted Daniel of four counts of mail and wire fraud, six counts of tax evasion and one count of witness tampering.
The basic facts of the case are that Daniel, a medical doctor and prominent Pentecostal minister, fraudulently marketed and collected more than $1 million for a medical treatment that she and her employees claimed could cure many diseases and conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, diabetes and hepatitis. Daniel claimed that her bogus cancer cure had a success rate of between 60 percent and 80 percent for the most advanced forms of cancer.
The evidence presented at trial showed that Daniel’s treatment did not cure anyone of cancer, nor was it was made from herbs from around the world or blended for an individual patient, as she has promised patients. Chemical analyses determined that the product contained sunscreen preservative and beef extract flavoring, among other ingredients, none of which could have had any effect on cancer or other diseases, according to expert testimony.
“The scope of Daniel’s fraud was breathtaking,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “Daniel robbed victims of more than money - she also stole their hopes and dreams for a cure. Daniel is responsible for a shockingly cold-hearted fraud that has brought her a richly deserved federal prison sentence.”
Lisa Malinowski, Special Agent in Charge of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI), Los Angeles Field Office, stated: “The defendant in this case exhibited a blatant and heartless disregard for the desperately sick and vulnerable patients she repeatedly victimized. Today’s sentence aptly reflects the consequences of Dr. Daniel’s actions and demonstrates OCI’s commitment to relentlessly investigating modern-day snake oil salesmen that prey on sick and defenseless victims.”
The evidence presented during the trial showed that Daniel used her status as a Pentecostal minister to create a bond of trust with members of the Evangelical Christian community, an affinity that gave her access to victims to whom she sold bogus hope and worthless treatments. Daniel promoted the product under a variety of names – including “C-Extract,” “the natural treatment” and “the herbal treatment” – through a program televised on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
Daniel and her employees falsely claimed that the product was made with herbs from around the world and was manufactured in a laboratory according to the needs of each patient. Depending on the purported level or strength of the herbal product, Daniel would charge her customers up to $4,270 for one week’s worth of the herbal product. She offered a six-month treatment program for between $120,000 and $150,000.
Daniel “personally met with her victims in her medical office, looked them in the eyes, and represented that she had a miracle, herbal cancer cure that could save their lives,” according to the government’s sentencing memorandum.
During the trial, the jury heard testimony from 28 victim-patients, or close family members of victims who had died while taking Daniel’s product. Some described how Daniel urged them to avoid conventional cancer treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy, because such therapies would reduce the efficacy of Daniel’s herbal “cure.” Family members testified that Daniel also forbid her cancer patients to take any pain relief medication for the same reason. Some of these patients spent the last few months of their lives in agony as the cancers spread throughout their bodies. The evidence presented at trial showed that a significant percentage of Daniel’s patients died within three to six months after they started taking Daniel’s bogus cure.
According to testimony at trial, one victim who had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer contacted Daniel and was told that chemotherapy would not help. After the victim traveled to Southern California, Daniel told the victim that the herbal treatment program would shrink her tumors and kill her cancer cells. For almost five months, the victim and her husband paid Daniel thousands of dollars for the herbal product. After taking the herbal “cure” for four months and within two weeks after Daniel pronounced her to be cancer-free at a party held for patients, the victim died. The cancer had spread from her breasts to her bones and brain.
“Daniel repeatedly demonstrated a merciless and callous indifference to the suffering of her patients and their family members,” prosecutors wrote in court papers.
Daniel and employees working at her direction induced approximately 60 victims to send more than $1.2 million to Daniel’s Sonrise clinic. In an attempt to operate the business under the guise of a non-profit organization, Daniel instructed patients to classify their medical service payments as donations. According to documents filed with the court, for the tax years 2002 through 2004, Daniel failed to report nearly $1.3 million on her corporate income tax returns, which resulted in a tax loss to the government of approximately $438,809. Similarly, Daniel failed to report approximately $315,109 on her personal income tax returns for the same time period, resulting in an additional tax loss to the government of $73,895.
“Christine Daniel used her position of trust -- as a medical doctor and Pentecostal minister -- to defraud vulnerable cancer patients in a $1.2 million dollar scheme,” said Jose A. Gonzalez, Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation’s Los Angeles Field Office. “Defendant Daniel’s convictions for failing to pay federal income taxes on the proceeds of her fraudulent cancer fraud scheme confirm her greed and the criminal nature of her character. Today, Justice is served, and Christine Daniel is being held accountable for her criminal actions.”
The evidence presented at trial showed that Daniel attempted to influence the testimony of at least two witnesses who were called to testify before the grand jury. One of those witnesses, a long-time patient of Daniel, admitted during trial that he lied to both law enforcement officers and the federal grand jury after being improperly influenced by her.
The investigation of Daniel was conducted by IRS - Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations, and the Medical Board of California.
Release No. 13-071