LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A California doctor has been sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for bilking her patients out of more than US$1 million by promising that an herbal supplement could cure late-stage cancer and other diseases.
US District Judge Robert Timlin sentenced 58-year-old Christine Daniel on Friday. He also ordered her to pay about US$1.3 million.
Daniel was found guilty of 11 counts, including wire fraud, tax evasion and witness tampering.
Authorities say Daniel enticed patients to take her herbal product.
She also charged them as much as US$100,000 for a six-month treatment programme that she claimed could cure cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Some of her patients, however, died from complications of cancer within three to six months after taking the supplement.
At the age of three, Brianica Kirsch was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Her parents, desperate to find alternative measures for their daughter who had undergone surgeries and chemotherapy, turned to Dr Daniel, who offered an herbal supplement with a success rate she claimed was between 60 and 80 per cent.
Brianica's parents spent thousands of dollars on the herbal product and their daughter spent much of her time in those last few months before she died in the summer of 2002 being shuttled from her Ventura County home to Daniel's clinic in the San Fernando Valley.
In all, authorities believe Daniel siphoned about $1.1 million from dozens of families between 2001 and 2004.
In one case, prosecutors contend a 22-year-old woman who had highly curable form of neck lymphoma died because she relied on Daniel's recommendation to avoid radiation or chemotherapy treatments.
Daniel was convicted in September 2011 of 11 counts, including wire fraud, tax evasion and witness tampering. Authorities said Daniel used her position both as a doctor at the Sonrise Wellness Centre and a Pentecostal minister to entice people from across the nation to take her herbal product to remedy cancer, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.
Federal prosecutors argue that Daniel preyed upon people in their most vulnerable state and gave them false hope.
Daniel "repeatedly demonstrated a merciless and callous indifference to the suffering of her patients and their family members," Assistant US Attorney Joseph Johns wrote in court documents. "It is unlikely that our federal criminal justice system will see the like of defendant Christine Daniel again."
For Brianica's parents, they implored Daniel for the stark truth given their daughter's condition.
"I remember telling Dr Daniel before we started, `If this isn't real, if you can't really help my daughter, please don't take away our last time with her,'" LuAnn Kirsch testified at Daniel's trial. "`Just let us go home if you can't really help.' Because you don't get that time back."
For other patients, they endured additional pain and suffering because they took the herbal tonic provided by Daniel. At trial, experts called by federal prosecutors said chemical tests of the product showed it contained beef extract flavouring and a sunscreen preservative among other ingredients.
"I live with the guilt that I should have seen that none of what she was going through was helping her, but instead was hurting her," Debra Harris wrote in a letter submitted to the court about her sister and Daniel's one-time patient Barbara Davis who later died. Harris said Daniel's patients were not only convinced by the physician that they could be cured but so were family members who "wanted to believe it just as bad."