On Tuesday, Alfred Sapse was sentenced to spend 17 ½ years in federal prison. Sapse, an unlicensed physician, had set up a scheme that defrauded patients via a stem cell procedure. The 87-year-old was also ordered to pay over $1 million in restitution to his victims.
Following the sentencing, Sapse said that he expected to die while serving his sentence. Senior US District Judge Kent Dawson found that he did not show any remorse for his actions during the sentencing and noted that Sapse continued to claim that the stem cell implants benefited the victims.
Back in November, Sapse along with his co-defendant, the now late pediatrician Ralph Conti, were found guilty by a jury of conspiracy and fraud.
The two were performing a procedure where dead placental tissue was placed into the abdomens of sick patients surgically. In theory, according to Sapse, the stem cells in the tissue would them move to the areas of the body that were damaged and repair the tissue. Conti had been a local practitioner for over twenty years while Sapse is not licensed to practice medicine in the United States, and received his medical education in Romania.
Conti mysteriously died following a surgery three weeks after the guilty verdicts were handed down. Although Clark County did an extensive autopsy on Conti’s body, the cause of death was found undetermined. Coroner Mike Murphy said that the office was unable to find a definite cause of Conti’s death despite performing a multitude of tests.
During the sentencing, Sapse was described by the prosecution as the mastermind behind the operation. Assistant US Attorney Crane Pomerantz called the fraud grotesque, and claimed that Sapse convinced people who were incurable to have ineffective and dangerous medical procedures for his own financial benefit. Pomerantz went on to compare him to Dr. Frankenstein who sold hope to those who did not have any left.
Over the course of the scheme Sapse netted $1 million, and he gambled most of that away at casinos in the Las Vegas area.
In the initial trial, Pomerantz claimed that Sapse had paid Conti about $60,000 to perform the fake procedure on 30 patients back in 2006. The patients had serious ailments, including cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. Conti and Sapse testified that the patients improved greatly following the procedure. Prosecutors countered that the tissue was killed before the procedure was performed when the defendants cleaned it with hydrogen peroxide.
In addition, the defendants had no idea who the placentas came from (a midwife supplied them), including whether they could have carried any diseases. They argued that the procedures were done with compassion rather than greed, and that all patients were informed of the experimental nature of the procedure.
Sapse also argued that the entire trial was happening because the government wanted to prevent him from creating a drug that could treat Alzheimers. He also claimed to have developed Gerovital, which is an anti-aging drug, and getting it legalized back in the 1970s before the FDA approved it.