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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

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

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

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