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Doctor on trial for fraud and misdiagnosing patients to fund ‘opulent lifestyle’

Have you ever received a diagnosis or prescription from a doctor…

…and you had a gut feeling it just wasn’t right?

While most doctors have the best of intentions… The story herein demonstrates why you should ALWAYS pay more attention to that gut feeling.

Meet Dr. Jorge Zamora-Quezada — a South Texas rheumatologist.

Fox News reports Dr. Zamora-Quezada diagnosed hundreds of patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

Patients say he shot them full of drugs — even harsh chemotherapy chemicals — and charged them over $1,000 a visit.

The problem?

Almost none of them had rheumatoid arthritis!

So, why did Dr. Zamora-Quezada tell them they did?

Just follow the money.

Court records show Dr. Zamora-Quezada raked in over $240 million in kickbacks from private insurance companies AND taxpayer funded Medicare.

In fact, the feds seized a Maserati supercar, a private jet, and 5 homes (including 2 penthouses in Mexico)…

All purchased with dirty money this quack stole from innocent people.

Case.>Maria Zapata went to see Dr. Jorge Zamora-Quezada a little more than five years ago because one of her knees was bothering her. The rheumatologist told her that she had arthritis and that he’d give her injections “to strengthen the cartilage” in her knee, she said.

Her husband asked, “Why are you giving her so many injections?” The doctor reassured them that the treatment would help.
But Zapata, 70, of McAllen, Texas, said the medication didn’t help and might have been making things worse: There was discoloration on her legs. Other doctors raised concern about the treatments, and her family doctor even told her she didn’t have arthritis.
When patients would question his procedures and diagnoses, he’d dismiss them from his clinic.
Nora Rodriguez, 44, said Zamora-Quezada kicked her out after she asked why all the medicines he prescribed hadn’t worked. “He kept getting upset when I was asking him why I was feeling worse and not getting better,” she said. “He yelled and told me, ‘you are no longer my patient; get out of this office.’ I’m getting chills remembering this.”
When they would request their medical records, Zamora-Quezada would “conceal patient records from other rheumatologists,” the indictment says.
The documents said he would even hide those records from Medicare in an insecure and dilapidated building in the Rio Grande Valley. Photos in the court documents show a pile of medical records haphazardly thrown across the floor of the building.
The FBI is asking for other patients who were in the doctor’s care between January 2000 and May 2018 to call the hotline at 1-833-432-4873, Option 8, or email ZamoraPatient@fbi.gov. The FBI is legally mandated to identify victims of federal crimes that it investigates and provide these victims with information, assistance services and resources.
This case is certainly not an isolated incident involving potential medical fraud. Health care fraud costs the country about $68 billion annually, according to estimates from the National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association, and that’s probably a conservative number. That’s about 3% of the $2.26 trillion the country spends on health care, according to the association.
“It makes me feel bad, because you go to a doctor trusting in them,” former patient Zapata said. “I felt bad because he was practically inventing things.”

Now, Dr. Zamora-Quezada is currently on trial. And there’s no doubt the judge will send him on a one-way trip to the slammer.

Unfortunately, there are still many other doctors prescribing drugs that people don’t need.

And even if they’re doing nothing technically illegal… Most MDs have Big Pharma breathing down their necks to dole out scripts like Halloween candy.

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Henry Sapiecha

He discovered amounts of $800 & $10,000 of his money had been transferred to another bank account via his phone

 $10,000 transfer theft via borrowed phone

A TEENAGER has been refused bail and committed to stand trial in Gladstone’s District Court Qld Australia over the alleged assault of a taxi driver and the attempted theft of more than $10,000 from his bank account.

The 18-year-old appeared in Gladstone Magistrates Court via video link from Capricornia Correctional Centre yesterday.

He wore an olive-green prisoner’s jumper and at times held his head in his hands as Sergeant Barry Stevens read out the allegations made against him

The court was told that shortly after 3am on January 20, the man and two co-accused – an 18-year-old and a 17-year-old – called a taxi driver to a house at Barney Point.

Police allege that the man, who knew the taxi driver, asked to borrow his phone as they waited to leave the house.

One of the co-accused then left saying he was going to the bathroom, according to police, and the phone was not returned to the driver until the teenager came back.

When the driver checked his phone, Sgt Stevens said he discovered amounts of $800 and $10,000 had been transferred deceptively to an unfamiliar bank account.

He challenged the teenagers over the money transfers before he was “set upon by all three”, Sgt Stevens told the court.

The teenagers allegedly repeatedly punched the man in the face and torso and bashed him with a brick, before stealing his mobile phone and a gold chain.

When the driver managed to escape the house and get to his car, police said the teens continued to attack the car, damaging it. The taxi driver suffered a fractured jaw.

The three teenagers were later found by the police dog squad at a nearby house.

Acting magistrate Neil Lavaring noted the man had already spent 125 days in custody and it could be months until he faced trial.

But he refused to allow bail on the basis the man posed an unacceptable risk of re-offending.

He did not enter a plea before the committal.

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Henry Sapiecha

Foreign students are arrested after they are caught forging signatures and taking out money from Australian banks in multi-million dollar RIPOFF

Strike Force police have caught out international students scamming millions from banks as part of an overseas criminal syndicate group.

Those involved have been using forged signatures and documents to convince bank staff they are the the legitimate bank account holders, and then withdrawing the cash.

Twenty-four people have been arrested so far with more to follow, and 288 charges have been laid by police over $2.5 million stolen from banks, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Mostof the perpetrators were in Australia on student visas.

In some cases, the syndicate has been bypassing the banks verification systems by taking over mobile phone numbers of victims, the publication declared.

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© Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Twenty-four people have been arrested, and 288 charges have been laid by police over $2.5 million stolen from banks Many of those who have been caught have been already sentenced to jail since Strike Force Wilmot was established in 2013.  

One man was sentenced to a minimum of 20 months prison in January, while another was jailed in February.

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NSW Police cyber crime chief Detective Superintendent Arthur Katsogiannis told the Daily Telegraph Strike Force Wilmot did an awesome job catching those persons involved.

‘We have worked very closely with the financial institutions in order to identify those responsible,’ Det Katsogiannis said.

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Henry Sapiecha

Jail time prescribed for medical centre fraudster

PRISON has been deemed the best medicine after a con artist fleeced a couple out of $132,000 and invested the money between his assets, including a Central Queensland business.

Ronald James Richardson, the former Fraser Shores Medical Centre owner, duped a couple who approached him after seeing an ad in Mackay.

Richardson’s business was buying and selling medical centres.

And he was “in a position of trust” regarding the couple with a self-managed superannuation fund who made contact, Judge Nathan Jarro said.

Richardson advertised about medical centre investments with a “12.5% guaranteed return,” Brisbane District Court heard on Thursday.

The con artist took $75,000 from the couple.

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Then he was declared bankrupt.

But in December 2012, when banned from acting as a company director, a company Richardson controlled borrowed $100,000 more from the couple.

“Those funds did not go to purchase medical equipment but the bulk was diverted into other accounts.” Judge Jarro said.

Richardson paid back more than $40,000, so the total amount defrauded was $132,985.15.

The fraudster, 63, has been in and out of court several times this decade.

The crimes he was sentenced for this week happened before his conviction for a different fraud in 2013.

That year, jurors found he fraudulenty funnelled investors’ money into an interest-bearing account.

His companies set up practices in Gympie, in Biloela and in NSW.

Richardson, a married father of three, was released on parole in 2015.

During a bail application last year, Crown prosecutor Ron Swanwick said Richardson displayed a “chronic pattern of dishonesty over a lifetime“.

On Thursday, the Crown wanted Richardson to go to jail with no parole for at least six months.

But his behaviour while on bail for the latest charges was impeccable, the court heard.

Richardson’s wife and one of his daughters wrote letters of support.

Defence counsel Kate Juhasz said Richardson should be released on parole at once.

Judge Jarro said a term of imprisonment was “the only option”.

Richardson was jailed for two and a half years but will be released on parole on July 30 this year.

No people were in court to support him.

He appeared to send someone a text after learning he was going to jail, then was led off into custody.

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Henry Sapiecha

Co-workers in shock over fake cancer allegations against mum & scamming $45,000

FORMER colleagues of a Casino [Nsw. Australia] mother of four charged with fraud helped out by driving her to medical appointments and chemotherapy treatments and performing child minding duties, it has emerged.

Co-workers in shock over fake cancer allegations against mum

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It’s understood several staff at the Casino RSM Club where Melissa Quinn worked part-time in 2014 were in tears today after hearing about the police allegations.

The Casino RSM Club has subsequently issued a statement about the affair.

In the written statement, secretary manager of the club Neale Genge said the club was “deeply shocked and saddened to be informed about the arrest of Melissa Quinn in relation to alleged fraud from fundraising activities held to assist with her cancer treatment.”

“While the Casino RSM Club has a strict policy of not making cash donations to individuals, we have on many occasions assisted a number of individuals to host fundraising events for persons requiring medical treatment.

“Our contribution has always been non-cash such as assisting with promoting these events and making our facilities available at no cost.

“The Casino RSM Club assisted Ms Quinn’s friends and family in hosting an event in November 2014 in which approximately $20,000 raised at the Club with additional funds coming from Cricket Australia and other sources.

“Ms Quinn was a part-time employee of the club at that time, while also being an employee of Cricket NSW.

“At no stage was the Casino RSM Club aware that Ms Quinn’s illness was anything but genuine, and a number of staff members had assisted Ms Quinn by minding her children and driving to her alleged medical appointments and chemotherapy treatments.

“The generosity of the people of Casino and District has been highlighted a number of times in the support they show for people in need.

“While this matter is before the courts we cannot speculate further, but we trust this incident will not dampen the Casino community’s commitment to provide assistance to individuals and support their own when required.”

It’s understood that Ms Quinn quit her job yesterday at the Casino BWS bottle shop.

Update 12.05pm: THE CLOSE knit Casino cricket community is reeling with news that former player and volunteer Melissa Quinn has been charged with multiple counts of fraud.

John Black, long serving secretary-treasurer of the Casino Cavaliers Cricket Club said news of Ms Quinn’s arrest came as a “huge shock”.

Mr Black worked closely with Ms Quinn during her tenure as a volunteer for the Casino and District Cricket Association and vice president of the Cavaliers, which field the elite district team.

“These are just allegations… we probably can’t judge Melissa just right at this moment, but it is a shock,” he said.

Mr Black said the entire community took Ms Quinn “at her word” and pitched in to help raise money for her treatment.

“The community got in behind her because that’s what most communities do when someone is suffering from cancer, that’s what people do, help each other.

“She exhibited for me a love of cricket… she was always willing to help.”

Mr Black was one of scores of local business people and community members to contribute to an auction at the Casino RSM Club in 2014 to raise money for Ms Quinn’s medical trip to California.

“We all pitched in a did our little bit to help her,” he said.

Ms Quinn was also supposed to be spending eight weeks in the US to undergo specialised proton radiation therapy. But he said she returned after two weeks.

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Original story 5am: A Casino woman allegedly faked cancer to fleece tens of thousands of dollars from unsuspecting donors including Cricket NSW.

Mum of four Melissa Irene Quinn, 34, allegedly concocted an elaborate story in 2014 to raise money for an all-expenses paid trip to California to undergo “life saving” proton radiation therapy.

Ms Quinn was a volunteer for the Casino District Cricket Association at the time.

Former Australian captain Michael Clarke was one of three Test players to donate signed and framed playing shirts for auction for a $70 per head fund raising event in her honour in October 2014 held at the Casino RSM Club.

NSW State of Origin also donated a jersey.

Prior to the 2014 event she told The Northern Star then she had only two years left to live after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

“I had cancer two-and-a- half years ago in the uterus, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that it’s come back,” she said.

“The Australian Medical Board is covering 90% of my costs to go to California to receive proton radiation therapy.

“But we need to make up the money for eight weeks of airfares, clinical fees and everyday expenses.

“We’ve estimated we need to raise $20,000.”

In 2015 Ms Quinn started work full-time for Cricket NSW as a development manager for the North Coast region.

Then in 2016, she allegedly claimed she had contracted ovarian cancer and chronic myeloid leukaemia.

“I’ve got a tumour in my leg and I’ll actually be having surgery next week,” she told The Northern Star in May 2016.

“It’s a bit of a tough time for me at the moment and I’m just looking forward to getting back on my feet.”

Cricket NSW then supported her with a number of auctions to raise further funds for her treatment.

During Casino’s annual Beef Week celebrations that year Test cricketer and current Sheffield Shield captain Steve O’Keefe helped auction off cricket memorabilia on her behalf.

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Sydney sixers and NSW cricketer Steve O’Keefe was part of fundraising activities for Melissa Quinn in Casino.

Her story was the source of widespread media coverage including a feature story on the ABC’s 7.30 as well as press released from Cricket NSW which linked to a Gofundme crowdfunding campaign raising funds on her behalf.

Between 2014 and 2016 she is alleged to have raised a total of $45,000 – but police allege it was all lies.

The 34-year-old is charged with four counts of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception, one count of making false document to obtain financial advantage, and using a false document to obtain financial advantage.

She was arrested and charged on Tuesday and granted conditional bail.

Her bail conditions forbids Ms Quinn from approaching or contacting any prosecution witness or any member of Cricket NSW involved in the matter.

The matter is set down for mention in Casino Local Court on 18 April 2018.

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Henry Sapiecha

NZ Man in court over alleged $1.2m scammed from pensioners

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A 48-YEAR-OLD Kiwi has been extradited back from New Zealand to face 21 boiler room fraud charges that police claim stripped retirees of their superannuation and others to the tune of $1.2 million.

The man, who is due to appear in Maroochydore Magistrates Court this afternoon, was the alleged ringleader of the Gold Coast-based scam, police claim.

Victims were lured into the scam with cold calls or by visiting websites set up by the group, Detective Senior Sergeant Daren Edwards alleged.

They were drip fed a small amount of cash to get them to pour more in.

He said the “callous” alleged fraudster had blown most of the $1.2 million on a luxury Gold Coast lifestyle and police did not yet have any assets to strip from the man.

“It was to do with safe racing and betting,” Sen Sgt Edwards said.

“Some of the allegations are that some of the complainants received some of the funding back so they appeared they were getting returns however that was just a phoenix set up. Once an investor put money in they would drip feed some of the other investors money to give the false impression they were getting money,” he alleged.

Snr Sgt Edwards alleged one West Australian victim invested $300,000 into the scam while another Sunshine Coast man in his 70s put in more than $70,000.

A second man has been charged on the Gold Coast.

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Henry Sapiecha

Million-dollar visa scam leaves migrants $50,000 out of pocket, boss drives Porsche

A million-dollar jobs and visa scam that promised to help find work for hopeful migrants in regional areas has left dozens up to $50,000 out of pocket while the plan’s architect lives in a $3 million mansion and drives a brand-new Porsche.

 

Lubo Jack Raskovic exits his car. Pic Nick Moir 10 nov 2017

Lubo Jack Raskovic exits his car. Pic Nick Moir 10 nov 2017

 

A recruitment agency run by former banned company director Lubo Jack Raskovic out of an office block in Sydney’s north west, promised to help find migrants sponsored jobs and a pathway to visas in exchange for asking fees as high as $70,000.

“He said he can find the right guy in my field – if I want [visa] sponsorship, he can help,” said Melbourne-based mechanic and former client, Harmandeep Brar.

A joint SBS-Fairfax Media investigation can also reveal Mr Raskovic, 59, and his company, Global Skills and Business Services Pty Ltd, offered to pay cash to employers in regional areas, in return for jobs and visas.

“He works for a different company, All Borders Pty Limited – set up just weeks before Global Skills went broke.”

Employer Chris Olm, from Chris’s Welding & Steel in Chinchilla in Queensland’s Western Downs Region, said he was offered $10,000 if he took on a worker and sponsored them for a visa. After pestering Mr Raskovic for his payment, he was told he would be paid in cash.

“He said, ‘do you want money in cash’ (and) I said, ‘just put it in my bank account. Who f–kin’ deals in cash, how dodgy is this,” Mr Olm said.

Former clients said they discovered the business through word of mouth or Facebook posts. Most spent months trying to source a job though Mr Raskovic but eventually ended up seeking a refund which was never granted in full, and in many cases not at all. Some left Australia ruined.

Last month Mr Raskovic placed Global Skills, of which he is sole director and shareholder, into liquidation with debts of around $2.5 million, leaving 45 creditors, mostly Indian migrants, out of pocket.

According to corporate records the company had “nil” assets when it was wound up. But just 10 months earlier Mr Raskovic bought a $3 million mansion in Bella Vista – described by real estate agents as “one of the Hills district’s finest homes” – and purchased a new $100,000 black Porsche Cayenne station wagon, under a separate business entity.

He works for a different company, All Borders Pty Limited – set up just weeks before Global Skills went broke – and operates from the same office under a similar business model. It’s owned by his partner, Neo Tau, who shares his Bella Vista mansion.

Forced to return to India

Suneel Kumar Kocherla, 41, said he lost around $30,000 to Global Skills, which promised to help him find a regional job.

He was desperate to find a way to remain in the country two years ago and searched for recruitment companies. He accepted a contract with Global Skills and agreed to pay $40,000.

In return, Global Skills agreed to provide “recruitment services” that included “gathering CVs and requesting references”, “facilitating interviews and placement opportunities” and “supporting the offer and acceptance process”. A job is not guaranteed, however clients are entitled to a refund of their fees paid less reasonable expenses if employment lasts for less than 12 months.

In April 2015, he received a written job offer from the chief executive of a landscaping company on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

A “letter of engagement” sighted by SBS and Fairfax Media purports to show the landscaping business offering him a job. The company’s boss said he had never heard of Mr Raskovic or his company Global Skills. “Never have I entered into an agreement with anyone to do with that stuff,” the firm’s boss said.

Asked to respond to the allegations, Mr Raskovic said he had advice not to talk. He did not respond to written questions.

After several other jobs failed to eventuate, Mr Kocherla, who has two young children, was forced to leave Australia and return to India.

Clients, employers in the same boat

Clients aren’t the only ones angry at Mr Raskovic. Employers claim they were offered cash payments in exchange for either taking on a migrant worker or sponsoring a visa outcome, but never received them.

Under new laws introduced in December 2015, it is illegal to offer or provide money in exchange for a sponsored work-visa arrangement. Maximum penalties for individuals are up to $50,400 per offence which rises to $252,000 for bodies corporate.

Mr Raskovic declined to answer questions on the payment of fees, however internal documents seen by SBS and Fairfax Media refer on one occasion to a “training fee” of $10,000 offered to employers.

Mr Olm said the $10,000 he was promised would only be handed over after the visa had been granted.

“Once they get approved, we are supposed to get 10 grand,” he said.

When he met the worker he said he didn’t have the necessary experience, but kept him on anyway.

“I was happy to keep him, I mean they siphoned 50 grand out of the kid,” he said.

After the worker received his visa, Mr Olm rang Mr Raskovic to collect his payment.

But Mr Olm said he never received the money and is now considering legal action.

Another business owner, Garry Rogers, who runs the Noosaville Meat Markets, north of Brisbane, said he was offered as much as $10,000 to take on a migrant worker.

“I was told I could get five grand, maybe 10, if he stayed on,” he said.

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Ankur paid $50,000 to Global Skills and Business Services for a job that never eventuated.

He was eventually fired after two months. He claims that the job was primarily a manual labour role despite the employment contract describing it as a mechanic role.

“I told them ‘you find the wrong job for us’ … I haven’t worked with a diesel machine,” he said.

He demanded his money back from Mr Raskovic’s company but said he has received nothing.

Another claims he is owed $35,000 on the promise of a managerial position. He does not want to be identified because his parents in India still do not know he lost the money.

He ended up driving between Brisbane and Roma – a 500-kilometre journey –  going door-to-door looking for work.

“I slept in the car and I went town to town,” he said.

‘A more legal way of doing his business’

Schon Condon was appointed as the liquidator of Global Skills and met with Mr Raskovic last month.

“He said he had lost a legal action and was looking at reinventing a better way – and presumably a more legal way – of doing his business,” Mr Condon said.

At the meeting Mr Raskovic indicated the company had no assets. But the joint SBS-Fairfax Media investigation has uncovered text messages and emails from January 2017 from Raskovic’s company asking clients to pay money into a Westpac account.

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Ankur has never received a refund. His calls to Jack Raskovic go unanswered.

According to invoices obtained by SBS and Fairfax Media, in the six months before Global Skills was put into liquidation, two companies linked to Mr Raskovic sought payment for almost $1 million for services including rent, management fees and consultants fees for Mr Raskovic himself.

While the company was still solvent, clients were told to deposit their money into an account linked to a separate entity owned by Mr Raskovic, which holds the title for his $3 million Bella Vista Waters home, and a number of cars including a Black Porsche station wagon purchased earlier this year.

Already disqualified

Mr Raskovic has previously been disqualified from managing companies for four years from 2008 after the Australian Securities and Investments Commission found he allowed three companies to trade while insolvent.

Global Skills and Business Services Pty Ltd also continues to be identified as operating another recruitment website – www.rsms457.com – which promises to connect job seekers with employers who “in many cases… are able to provide Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme and 457 [visa] sponsorships.”

According to contracts seen by SBS and Fairfax Media, a company linked to Mr Raskovic would offer job-spotters a $2000 payment for finding work for migrants that would lead to a visa application. Instalments would be paid upon job placement with the remainder “upon completion, lodgement and approval of all requisite employer sponsorship documentation”.

Jee Eun Han, executive manager at Australian Immigration Law Services, said it was not uncommon for migrants seeking visas to be exploited or lose their money through such schemes.

“The most common story from them is, ‘I paid huge money to the job broker or recruitment agent for employer to sponsor them for visa, even though the job never existed and they paid more than $50,000 sometimes,” she said.

“Just put yourself in their shoes – you are overseas, living there for a few years, you may have kids as well, and you’re trying to find a job and secure your visa and now you’re being targeted by the scammer.”

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Henry Sapiecha

 

 

Dr Con Man the rise and fall of a celebrity scientist who fooled almost everyone.Macchiarini

Surgeon Paolo Macchiarini was hailed for turning the dream of regenerative medicine into a reality – until he was exposed as a con artist and false prophet

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Scientific pioneer, superstar surgeon, miracle worker – that’s how Paolo Macchiarini was known for several years. Dressed in a white lab coat or in surgical scrubs, with his broad, handsome face and easy charm, he certainly looked the part. And fooled almost everyone.

Macchiarini shot to prominence back in 2008, when he created a new airway for Claudia Castillo, a young woman from Barcelona. He did this by chemically stripping away the cells of a windpipe taken from a deceased donor; he then seeded the bare scaffold with stem cells taken from Castillo’s own bone marrow. Castillo was soon back home, chasing after her kids. According to Macchiarini and his colleagues, her artificial organ was well on the way to looking and functioning liked a natural one. And because it was built from Castillo’s own cells, she didn’t need to be on any risky immunosuppressant drugs.

This was Macchiarini’s first big success. Countless news stories declared it a medical breakthrough. A life-saver and a game-changer. We now know that wasn’t true. However, the serious complications that Castillo suffered were, for a long time, kept very quiet.

Meanwhile, Macchiarini’s career soared. By 2011, he was working in Sweden at one of the world’s most prestigious medical universities, the Karolinska Institute, whose professors annually select the winner of the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine. There he reinvented his technique. Instead of stripping the cells from donor windpipes, Macchiarini had plastic scaffolds made to order. The first person to receive one of these was Andemariam Beyene, an Eritrean doctoral student in geology at the University of Iceland. His recovery put Macchiarini on the front page of the New York Times.

Macchiarini was turning the dream of regenerative medicine into a reality. This is how NBC’s Meredith Vieira put it in her documentary about Macchiarini, appropriately called A Leap of Faith: “Just imagine a world where any injured or diseased organ or body part you have is simply replaced by a new artificial one, literally manmade in the lab, just for you.” This marvelous world was now within reach, thanks to Macchiarini.

Last year, however, the dream soured, exposing an ugly reality.

Macchiarini gave his “regenerating” windpipes to 17 or more patients worldwide. Most, including Andemariam Beyene, are now dead. Those few patients who are still alive – including Castillo – have survived in spite of the artificial windpipes they received.

In January 2016, Macchiarini received an extraordinary double dose of bad press. The first was a Vanity Fair article about his affair with Benita Alexander, an award-winning producer for NBC News. She met Macchiarini while producing A Leap of Faith and was soon breaking one of the cardinal rules of journalism: don’t fall in love with the subject of your story.

By the time the program aired, in mid-2014, the couple were planning their marriage. It would be a star-studded event. Macchiarini had often boasted to Alexander of his famous friends. Now they were on the wedding guest list: the Obamas, the Clintons, Vladimir Putin, Nicolas Sarkozy and other world leaders. Andrea Bocelli was to sing at the ceremony. None other than Pope Francis would officiate, and his papal palace in Castel Gandolfo would serve as the venue. That’s what Macchiarini told his fiancee.

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Macchiarini at work. Photograph: TT News Agency/Press Association Images

But as the big day approached, Alexander saw these plans unravel, and finally realised that her lover had lied about almost everything. The pope, the palace, the world leaders, the famous tenor – they were all fantasies.

Likewise the whole idea of a wedding: Macchiarini was still married to his wife of 30 years.

Macchiarini’s deceit was so outlandish, Vanity Fair sought the opinion of the Harvard professor Ronald Schouten, an expert on psychopaths, who gave this diagnosis-at-a-distance: “Macchiarini is the extreme form of a con man. He’s clearly bright and has accomplishments, but he can’t contain himself. There’s a void in his personality that he seems to want to fill by conning more and more people.”

Which left a big, burning question in the air: if Macchiarini was a pathological liar in matters of love, what about his medical research? Was he conning his patients, his colleagues and the scientific community?

The answer came only a couple of weeks later, when Swedish television began broadcasting a three-part exposé of Macchiarini and his work.

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Called Experimenten (The Experiments), it argued convincingly that Macchiarini’s artificial windpipes were not the life-saving wonders we’d all been led to believe. On the contrary, they seemed to do more harm than good – something that Macchiarini had for years concealed or downplayed in his scientific articles, press releases and interviews.

Faced with this public relations disaster, the Karolinska Institute immediately promised to investigate the allegations but then, within days, suddenly announced that Macchiarini’s contract would not be extended.

Macchiarini’s fall was swift, but troubling questions remain about why he was allowed to continue his experiments for so long. Some answers have emerged from the official inquiries into the Karolinska Institute and the Karolinska University hospital. They identified many problems with the way the twin organisations handled him.

Macchiarini’s fame had won him well-placed backers. These included Harriet Wallberg, who was the vice-chancellor of the Karolinska Institute in 2010, when Macchiarini was recruited. She pushed through his appointment despite the fact that he had some very negative references and dubious claims on his résumé.

This set a dangerous example. It showed department heads and colleagues that they should give Macchiarini special treatment.

He could do pretty much as he pleased. In the first couple of years at Karolinska, he put plastic airways into three patients. Since this was radically new, Macchiarini and his colleagues should have tested it on animals first. They didn’t.

Likewise, they didn’t undertake a proper risk assessment of the procedure, nor did Macchiarini’s team seek government permits for the plastic windpipes, stem cells, and chemical “growth factors” they used. They didn’t even seek the approval of Stockholm’s ethical review board, which is based at Karolinska.

Though Macchiarini was in the public eye, he was able to sidestep the usual rules and regulations. Or rather, his celebrity status helped him do so. Karolinska’s leadership expected big things from their superstar, things that would bring prestige and funding to the institute.

They also cited a loophole known as “compassionate use”. Macchiarini, they claimed, wasn’t really doing clinical research. No, he was just caring for his patients who were, one and all, facing certain death with no other treatment options available and no time to waste. In such dire circumstances, new treatments can be tried as a last resort.

This argument didn’t wash with those who later investigated the case. In their view, Macchiarini was certainly engaged in clinical research. Besides which, compassionate concerns don’t override the basic principles of patient safety and informed consent. Macchiarini, meanwhile, said he “did not accept” the findings of the disciplinary board.

As it turned out, Macchiarini’s patients weren’t all at death’s door at the time he treated them. Andemariam Beyene, for instance, had recurrent cancer of the windpipe but, aside from a cough, was still in good health. But even if his days had been numbered, this didn’t necessarily justify what Macchiarini put him through.

Beyene’s death two and a half years after the operation, caused by the failure of his artificial airway, was a grueling ordeal. According to Pierre Delaere, a professor of respiratory surgery at KU Leuven, Belgium, Macchiarini’s experiments were bound to end badly. As he said in Experimenten: “If I had the option of a synthetic trachea or a firing squad, I’d choose the last option because it would be the least painful form of execution.”

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Claudia Castillo with Dr Paolo Macchiarini.

Delaere was one of the earliest and harshest critics of Macchiarini’s engineered airways. Reports of their success always seemed like “hot air” to him. He could see no real evidence that the windpipe scaffolds were becoming living, functioning airways – in which case, they were destined to fail. The only question was how long it would take – weeks, months or a few years.

Delaere’s damning criticisms appeared in major medical journals, including the Lancet, but weren’t taken seriously by Karolinska’s leadership. Nor did they impress the institute’s ethics council when Delaere lodged a formal complaint.

Support for Macchiarini remained strong, even as his patients began to die. In part, this is because the field of windpipe repair is a niche area. Few people at Karolinska, especially among those in power, knew enough about it to appreciate Delaere’s claims. Also, in such a highly competitive environment, people are keen to show allegiance to their superiors and wary of criticising them. The official report into the matter dubbed this the “bandwagon effect”.

With Macchiarini’s exploits endorsed by management and breathlessly reported in the media, it was all too easy to jump on that bandwagon.

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And difficult to jump off. In early 2014, four Karolinska doctors defied the reigning culture of silence by complaining about Macchiarini. In their view, he was grossly misrepresenting his results and the health of his patients. An independent investigator agreed. But the vice-chancellor of Karolinska Institute, Anders Hamsten, wasn’t bound by this judgement. He officially cleared Macchiarini of scientific misconduct, allowing merely that he’d sometimes acted “without due care”.

For their efforts, the whistleblowers were punished. When Macchiarini accused one of them, Karl-Henrik Grinnemo, of stealing his work in a grant application, Hamsten found him guilty. As Grinnemo recalls, it nearly destroyed his career: “I didn’t receive any new grants. No one wanted to collaborate with me. We were doing good research, but it didn’t matter … I thought I was going to lose my lab, my staff – everything.”

This went on for three years until, just recently, Grinnemo was cleared of all wrongdoing.

The Macchiarini scandal claimed many of his powerful friends. The vice-chancellor, Anders Hamsten, resigned. So did Karolinska’s dean of research. Likewise the secretary-general of the Nobel Committee. The university board was dismissed and even Harriet Wallberg, who’d moved on to become the chancellor for all Swedish universities, lost her job.

Unfortunately, the scandal is much bigger than Karolinska, which accounts for only three of the patients who have received Macchiarini’s “regenerating” windpipes.

The other patients were treated at hospitals in Barcelona, Florence, London, Moscow, Krasnodar, Chicago and Peoria. None of these institutions have faced the same kind of public scrutiny. None have been forced to hold full and independent inquiries. They should be.

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Paolo Macchiarini at a press conference in 2008.

If the sins of Karolinska have been committed elsewhere, it is partly because medical research facilities share a common milieu, which harbours common dangers. One of these is the hype surrounding stem cells.

Stem cell research is a hot field of science and, according to statistics, also a rather scandal-prone one. Articles in this area are retracted 2.4 times more often than the average for biomedicine, and over half of these retractions are due to fraud.

Does the “heat” of stem cell research – the high levels of funding, prestige and media coverage it enjoys – somehow encourage fraud? That’s what our experience of medical research leads us to suspect. While there isn’t enough data to actually prove this, we do have some key indicators.

We have, for example, a growing list of scientific celebrities who have committed major stem cell fraud. There is South Korea’s Hwang Woo-suk who, in 2004, falsely claimed to have created the first human embryonic stem cells by means of cloning. A few years ago, Japan’s Haruko Obokata pulled a similar con when she announced to the world a new and simple – and fake – method of turning ordinary body cells into stem cells.

Hwang, Obokata and Macchiarini were all attracted to the hottest regions of stem cell research, where hope for a medical breakthrough was greatest. In Macchiarini’s case, the hope was that patients could be treated with stem cells taken from their own bone marrow.

Over the years, this possibility has generated great excitement and a huge amount of research. Yet, for the vast majority of such treatments, there is little solid evidence that they work. (The big exception is blood stem cell transplantation, which has been saving the lives of people with leukemia and other cancers of the blood for decades.)

It’s enough to worry officials from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They recently published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine admitting that stem cell research has mostly failed to live up to its therapeutic promise.

An alarmingly wide gap has grown between what we expect from stem cells and what they deliver. Each new scientific discovery brings a flood of stories about how it will revolutionise medicine one day soon. But that day is always postponed.

An unhappy result of this is the rise of pseudo-scientific therapies. Stem cell clinics have sprung up like weeds, offering to treat just about any ailment you can name. In place of clinical data, there are gushing testimonials. There are also plenty of desperate patients who believe – because they’ve been told countless times – that stem cells are the cure, and who cannot wait any longer for mainstream medicine. They and their loved ones fall victim to false hope.

Scientists can also suffer from false hope. To some extent, they believed Macchiarini because he told them what they wanted to hear. You can see this in the speed with which his “breakthroughs” were accepted. Only four months after Macchiarini operated on Claudia Castillo, his results – provisional but very positive – were published online by the Lancet. Thereafter it was all over the news.

The popular press also has a lot to answer for. Its love of human interest stories makes it sympathetic to unproven therapies. As studies have shown, the media often casts a positive light on stem cell tourism, suggesting that the treatments are effective and the risks low. It did much the same for Macchiarini’s windpipe replacements. A good example is the NBC documentary A Leap of Faith. It’s fascinating to rewatch – as a lesson on how not to report on medical science.

It is fitting that Macchiarini’s career unravelled at the Karolinska Institute. As the home of the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine, one of its ambitions is to create scientific celebrities. Every year, it gives science a show-business makeover, picking out from the mass of medical researchers those individuals deserving of superstardom. The idea is that scientific progress is driven by the genius of a few.

It’s a problematic idea with unfortunate side effects. A genius is a revolutionary by definition, a risk-taker and a law-breaker. Wasn’t something of this idea behind the special treatment Karolinska gave Macchiarini? Surely, he got away with so much because he was considered an exception to the rules with more than a whiff of the Nobel about him. At any rate, some of his most powerful friends were themselves Nobel judges until, with his fall from grace, they fell too.

If there is a moral to this tale, it’s that we need to be wary of medical messiahs with their promises of salvation.

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Henry Sapiecha

www.newcures.info

www.crimefiles.net

Zhenya Tsvetnenko [A Perth millionaire] to fight text message scam & fraud charges

Australian millionaire Zhenya Tsvetnenko is planning to fight charges he defrauded unsuspecting mobile phone users for unwanted text messages as part of a multi-million-dollar scheme in the United States.

An indictment filed in federal court in Manhattan on Friday charged Mr Tsvetnenko, Fraser Thompson, an ex-executive at mobile aggregation company Mobile Messenger, as well as Fancis Assifuah, who authorities say ran digital content providers.

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Perth digital entrepreneur Zhenya Tsvetnenko. Photo: Aaron Bunch Photographer

The indictments relate to a period from 2011 to 2013.

The trio were added to a pre-existing case against five other people and accused of participating in an “auto-subscribing” scheme to charge mobile phone customers monthly fees for unsolicited, recurring text messages without their consent.

Thompson was arrested on Friday in California. Mr Tsvetnenko lives in Perth and has not been arrested, while Assifuah had already been arrested in April. The trio face charges including wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Mr Tsvetnenko co-owns Voyeur night club which opened its doors in July at the refurbished Llama Bar site in Subiaco.

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Henry Sapiecha

www.intelagencies.com

www.crimefiles.net

www.freephonelink.net

 

Pamela Meyer: How to spot a liar in this great video presentation

On any given day we’re lied to from 10 to 200 times, and the clues to detect those lie can be subtle and counter-intuitive. Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, shows the manners and “hotspots” used by those trained to recognize deception — and she argues honesty is a value worth preserving.

TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. Featured speakers have included Al Gore on climate change, Philippe Starck on design, Jill Bolte Taylor on observing her own stroke, Nicholas Negroponte on One Laptop per Child, Jane Goodall on chimpanzees, Bill Gates on malaria and mosquitoes, Pattie Maes on the “Sixth Sense” wearable tech, and “Lost” producer JJ Abrams on the allure of mystery. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and TEDTalks cover these topics as well as science, business, development and the arts. Closed captions and translated subtitles in a variety of languages are now available on TED.com, at http://www.ted.com/translate.

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Henry Sapiecha

This is what happens when you reply to spam email | James Veitch on video

Published on Feb 1, 2016

Suspicious emails: unclaimed insurance bonds, diamond-encrusted safe deposit boxes, close friends marooned in a foreign country. They pop up in our inboxes, and standard procedure is to delete on sight. But what happens when you reply? Follow along as writer and comedian James Veitch narrates a hilarious, months-long exchange with a spammer who offered to cut him in on a hot deal.

TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design — plus science, business, global issues, the arts and much more.

Find closed captions and translated subtitles in many languages at http://www.ted.com/translate

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Henry Sapiecha