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Friday, December 21, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pair indicted on fraud charges in medical-device probe

Seattle Times staff reporters

A Mount Vernon couple operated a clandestine health-care clinic that offered bogus treatments for hepatitis and cancer with unproven medical devices, according to a federal grand-jury indictment.

Donald Brandt, 77, and Sharon Brandt, 65, who ran a clinic out of their home, face three felony counts involving fraud, according to the indictment. They will make an initial appearance on Jan. 3 in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

From 2002 through 2005, Donald Brandt posed as a medical doctor and used devices that purportedly fired radio frequencies that cured disease, according to a federal search warrant and state records.

He had no health-care license or degree.

His wife, Sharon, was in charge of scheduling appointments, and allegedly told patients, their family members and undercover state investigators to "keep quiet" about their treatments or the clinic would be in trouble for their "unapproved and clandestine" work, according to state and federal records.

Wednesday's indictment follows an extensive investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Washington state Department of Health. The state investigation showed Brandt earned $807,950 in treatment fees since 1995.

At least one person — a 32-year-old Bellingham man — died while being treated by the Brandts with an unproven machine, the search warrant states.

Donald Brandt treated the man, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer, for more than a year. The man's physician recommended immediate surgery to save his life. After refusing surgery and spending several thousand dollars on the device treatments, the man died Dec. 14, 2004, of cancer, leaving a wife and three young children.

"Unless the illegal use of this adulterated and misbranded device is stopped, these persons will likely die, or will have shortened life spans, absent contemporary medical intervention," stated FDA investigator Jim Burkhardt in the search warrant.

A recent Seattle Times investigation, "Miracle Machines," found that many energy devices flourish in the underground market — through alternative health conferences and the Internet.

The three-day series revealed how manufacturers and practitioners profit from treating people with unproven or fraudulent machines, some of them potentially dangerous, others illegal.

These devices are part of a growing and largely unregulated field called "energy medicine" — alternative therapies based on the belief that the body has energy fields that can be manipulated to improve health.

The Brandts had several energy devices known as Rife machines or wave form generators and a Vibe Machine for use at the clinic. None is registered for use by the FDA.

Rife machines are named after inventor Royal Rife, who in the 1930s created a device that purportedly destroyed disease with radio frequencies. There is no credible scientific evidence to substantiate that Rife devices work, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The Brandts also fraudulently used an unproven, pain-relief device called the Electro-Acuscope Model 70-C, according to the indictment.

They allegedly are part of a widespread underground movement of unlicensed health-care practitioners who use unproven devices to treat patients.

Last year more than 300 people attended the Rife International Health Conference in Seattle, where dozens of unregistered devices were sold, The Times investigation found.

Christine Willmsen: 206-464-3261 or cwillmsen@seattletimes.com; Michael J. Berens: 206-464-2288 or mberens@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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