Though a low-slung medical office building in Manassas City, Virginia, may seem like an unlikely place to find a cure for cancer, that's where Peter Adeniji was offering his miracles, police say. For only $1,200 a bottle, Adeniji's special herbal mixture would do what science and proven medications could not, authorities say he promised numerous patients.
The promises ended Monday when police from a Prince William County drug task force raided Adeniji's office and his home in Bristow, seizing medicines, ingredients for Adeniji's mixtures and $17,000 cash, authorities said. Adeniji was charged with five felony counts of fraud, seven counts of operating a medical practice without a license, four counts of dispensing drugs without a license and one count of money laundering. He was being held Tuesday in the Prince William jail without bond.
Adeniji has previously been charged and convicted for the same actions elsewhere in Virginia, and two of the cancer patients who obtained treatments from Adeniji later died, the prosecutor said Tuesday. Authorities considered filing a murder charge against Adeniji in one of the cases, Lynchburg Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Doucette said, but decided they could not prove proximate cause between the treatment and her death. Medical experts had concluded the woman likely would have died no matter the treatment she received, he said.
Prince William police said they believed that Adeniji may have had patients across the United States and internationally, based on conversations he had with an undercover detective who made multiple visits to Adeniji's office just off Sudley Road. The lead detective in the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he works undercover, said Adeniji had been in the office building for 18 months but practicing locally for longer than that, and appeared to have no staff other than himself. It was not immediately clear how many patients Adeniji had seen, pending review of his seized records.
Adeniji's website claims that he "has over 20 years of experience in the practice of naturopathic and holistic medicine," and that he "has successfully treated and reversed several diseases including multiple sclerosis, inoperable brain tumors, multiple myeloma, lung cancer . . . breast tumors . . . congestive heart failure, prostate cancer."
Though his office was raided Monday, all signs of his clinic had been erased by Tuesday, and the sign outside that used to bear his business' title was torn off. A woman who answered the door at his home Tuesday declined to speak to a reporter.
Officials with two cancer patient support groups urged caution in working with unconventional therapies. "People looking for a cure," said Sara Goldberger, director of program for Cancer Support Community, "alleviating side effects or improving quality of life are a very vulnerable population. I would be especially cautious when someone is offering you a cure. People have to talk to their health care team about that. There are so many examples of 'cures for cancer' that have proven not to be the cure for cancer."
Adeniji, 67, is not a licensed doctor, though his website says he is board certified with the American Council of Holistic Medicine, and "testimonials" posted on the site talk about the success of Adeniji's "herbal xtracts admixture therapy."
Adeniji first attracted attention from law enforcement in December 2007, after a Lynchburg woman with breast cancer told Virginia State Police that she had been receiving herbal solutions from Adeniji since July 2007. She told police that she met Adeniji in parking lots around Lynchburg and he claimed to have cured one woman of cancer after only a few weeks of taking his medicine, according to a court proffer from Lynchburg deputy commonwealth's attorney Chuck Felmlee. The woman reported that Adeniji performed a breast exam on her as she sat in her car.
The woman began purchasing bottles of Adeniji's "medicine," at a cost of more than $1,000 per bottle, but noticed that her tumor continued to swell, Felmlee said. Adeniji performed more in-car breast exams and reassured her that the treatments would work. Her tumor continued to grow, the woman began to suffer more pain, and finally couldn't get Adeniji to return her calls. He was indicted for felony fraud and unlicensed practice of medicine and pleaded guilty in June 2008. Adeniji was sentenced to five years in prison, but served only 3 1/2 months in jail, under a plea agreement in which he paid $6,000 restitution.
The woman died about six months later, Doucette said. When the woman's case was reported in the media, three other Adeniji patients came forward. One was satisfied with his treatment, Doucette said, and one was dealing with him from another jurisdiction. A third case involved "a young boy who eventually succumbed to cancer," Doucette said, "from a family in Texas who was wiring money to Adeniji. I couldn't prosecute without an in-court identification."
Doucette added, "Given the variety of the referrals we saw, I would surmise that quite a few people around here wanted to believe the unbelievable when faced with cancer. But I have no solid numbers outside of the 4. Obviously, it is reprehensible to prey on people suffering both physically and psychologically from cancer."
In 2014, Adeniji applied for and received a restoration of rights from Gov. Terry McAuliffe's office, state records show. The restoration is not a pardon, but enabled Adeniji to vote and apply for the ability to own a gun again. More recently, Adeniji published a book entitled "Observing and Diagnosing America," which a press release described as "a gripping and potent work that examines modern society and the negative effects of bigotry towards immigrants."
In May, the Prince William-Manassas-Manassas Park Narcotics Task Force received a tip about Adeniji. An undercover detective went to see him, and "Adeniji presented himself as a medical doctor," the lead investigator said, "and he performed a physical exam on the detective, in which he located a tumor." The detective does not have cancer.
Adeniji told the detective "he needed money up front to go to his lab and create the concoction," the lead investigator said. Over multiple visits, the detective purchased four bottles of the curative potion, for about $1,200 per bottle, and police spokesman Sgt. Jonathan Perok said Adeniji "discouraged traditional cancer treatments and made fraudulent statements to sell his medication." The arrest warrant states that Adeniji "claimed to be able to cure cancer with his medicine."
Experts said cancer patients often look for ways besides chemotherapy, radiation or conventional treatments to treat their disease. But, Wanda Diak of Cancer Hope Network said, "I think it's most important that people be educated about and be comfortable with what they are doing. Everyone has free will, but educate yourself and make sure what you're doing is right for you and you have the best information available."
Prince William detectives are seeking more information about Adeniji. The lead investigator said the drug task force wants to hear from "anybody who's seen him, even if it's a positive story, just to get the full truth of the story." Former patients of Adeniji may call police at 703-686-6522.