FDA Investigation Leads to Prison Sentence for Woman Who Claimed to Cure 'Lou Gehrig's Disease'
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigations today announced that a New Jersey woman has been sentenced to 33 months in prison for falsely claiming that she could cure amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
Elizabeth Lerner, a.k.a. "Elizabeth Cooperman," 38, of Egg Harbor City, N.J., was sentenced on Dec. 12, 2007, in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey for defrauding two ALS patients and their families. She also was ordered to pay $35,390 in restitution to the victims of the scheme and a criminal fine of $7,500.
"The FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations aggressively pursues those that provide false hope to patients by making unproven medical claims to unsuspecting patients — many with serious or life-threatening conditions who are desperate for a medical cure," said Terry Vermillion, director of FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations.
Lerner and her co-conspirator Charlene C. DeMarco, 55, a former doctor of osteopathy in Egg Harbor City, were convicted in December 2006 of all charges contained in an 11-count federal indictment. The indictment included one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud, six counts of wire fraud, and one count of money laundering.
DeMarco was sentenced on September 2007 to 57 months in prison, ordered to pay $32,190 in restitution to victims of the scam, and to pay a criminal fine of $7,500.
Evidence showed that from October 2002 until November 2004, DeMarco and Lerner agreed to defraud ALS patients and their families by claiming they could treat ALS patients with stem cell therapy, even though they knew they could not. The defendants falsely told their patients and their families that DeMarco had previously received FDA approval to treat ALS.
Jurors heard testimony from 24 government witnesses and viewed hundreds of pieces of evidence regarding the defendants' scheme.
Prosecutors said that Lerner and DeMarco also attempted to defraud two patients and their families in Louisiana of more than $140,000 and successfully obtained more than $40,000 from the scheme. Witnesses described how Learner and DeMarco illegally laundered money they received and used the proceeds for personal expenses.
This case was prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey in Camden and was investigated by the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations’ Metro Washington Field Office.