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It’s hard to say who people hate more: Quack doctors or con artists cloaked in religion. Dr. Christine Daniel was both. A former licensed physician, who also was a Pentecostal minister, she claimed she could perform miracles. Daniel said she could cure cancer and other ailments with a combination of prayer and her own specially formulated medicine, and made millions off desperate families trying to save their loved ones from the ravages of disease.
However, it was all a scam. Daniel’s “medicine” contained nothing more than non-pharmaceutical ingredients you could buy at any convenience store. Tragically, by the time she was brought to justice, many of her patients had succumbed to the very diseases that drove them to seek her out in the first place.
A native of Nigeria, Christine Daniel was adopted by missionaries and received a degree in medicine from Temple University in Philadelphia, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. She later became a Pentecostal minister in a Los Angeles area church near her medical practice and her home in Santa Clarita. She was a licensed physician and surgeon until 2012, and ran a successful family medical practice for more than 20 years before running afoul of the law.
In 2001, Daniel began offering an herbal remedy, which she claimed had a 60-80 percent success rate in curing cancer, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, diabetes and hepatitis, according to area periodical OC Weekly. She promoted it under a variety of names — most famously “C-Extract” — but also called it “the natural treatment” and “the herbal treatment,” according to her indictment. She said the gooey brown extract was composed of the finest herbal remedies from around the world. The Food and Drug Administration would later determine that the potion was made up of everyday herbs, minerals and vitamins, along with beef extract and suntan lotion, according to CNN.
Daniel claimed C-Extract and other pill supplements were only part of her miracle cure. The other part was prayer. In 2002, she took her message to the Christian Trinity Broadcasting Network appearing on a popular Evangelical show, according to her federal criminal indictment. “We have seen the dead raised,” she proclaimed on air on Dec. 5, 2002, according to the indictment, calling her practice “an Evangelical clinic” that combined “prayer and herbs.” She called her methodology “King Hezekiah alternative medicine,” alluding to the Bible story of an ancient monarch who prayed to God and was granted a reprieve from his maladies.
Patients began flocking to Daniel, drawn by her spiritual message and desperate for a cure to their debilitating and deadly diseases. Treatment cost anywhere from $750 to up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, with Daniel offering different plans according to her patients budgets, unwilling to lose any potential sale.
“She had different price treatments,” cancer patient Eugenia Vigilleti told CNN. “$6,000 dollars, and, she says, ‘I also have a $1,000 one.’ I says, ‘Ooh, I can't afford the $6,000.’” Jean McKinney paid more than $100,000 dollars to Daniel to treat her colon cancer, according to Fox News. She would die in 2004.
Along with selling bogus medicine and bilking the sick out of money, Daniel lied to her patients about their condition and discouraged them from seeking treatment that may have actually helped. Kiva Burell was in her early 20s and had a treatable form of lymphoma in her neck but died after Daniel told her to avoid radiation or chemotherapy, according to the Orange County Registry. Paula Middlebrooks, meanwhile, paid Daniel nearly $60,000 dollars before being told she was cancer free, according to Los Angeles CBS affiliate KCAL. In fact, the disease had spread throughout her body and she died within months.
Between 2001 and 2004, Daniel conned 55 families out of a combined $1.1 million dollars, according to the Los Angeles Times. Her patients travelled from all over the country to receive treatment at her Sonrise Medical Clinic, which is now closed, spending money they often didn’t have and going into debt for treatment plans that could last months. Daniel preyed on the desperation on patients young and old, in one case charging the family of 4-year-old Brianica Kirsch thousands of dollars before she succumbed to brain cancer, according to KCAL.
Forty-nine-year-old Minna Shakespeare, of Hanover, Massachusetts, who was suffering from lung cancer, sought treatment from Daniel after seeing her on television. She was told to stop her chemotherapy treatment, and paid Daniel approximately $13,000 dollars for fake meds, according to Fox News. After Shakespeare’s death in 2003, her husband sought a refund from Daniel and reported her to a consumer's council, who forwarded his complaint to the California Medical Board. In 2004, Daniel was interviewed by investigators and denied any and all allegations against her, according to The Daily News.
In early October 2009, police arrested Christine Daniel and charged her with two counts each of wire and mail fraud, according to NBC News. If convicted on all counts, she faced up to 80 years in prison. She was subsequently charged with tax evasion, witness tampering and criminal forfeiture charges, all of which she pleaded not guilty to, according to the Associated Press.
Despite the allegations against her, Daniel still had her supporters. “She’s terrific. She’s fantastic. She listens. And she’s Christian,” one longtime patient told the Los Angeles Daily News, while the pastor at her church, gospel artist Andrae Crouch, called her, “a wonderful woman who loves people.”
For her part, Daniel was resolute in defending herself. “I never promised a cure for anybody,” she told the newspaper. “Never.”
In the fall of 2011, Daniel went on trial. Along with the fraud charges, prosecutors determined she had failed to report well over $1 million dollars in earnings from her fake cancer treatment. On Sept. 28, 2011, she was found guilty on four counts of mail and wire fraud, six counts of tax evasion and one count of witness tampering, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In May 2013, Daniel was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison and ordered to forfeit over $1.2 million dollars, according to KCAL. Prosecutors had originally sought 27 years behind bars, with Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns calling her behavior “breathtakingly despicable, cruel and heinous,” according to the Orange County Register. Now 64 years old, her earliest possible release date is 2025.
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