King Con Returns

A bumbling justice system has allowed self-proclaimed AIDS miracle worker Basil Wainwright to continue peddling hope -- with harrowing results

Adam Von Furstenberg remembers seeing the hypodermic needle taped to his right arm pop upright like a jack-in-the-box and knowing he was in big trouble. The machine that was supposed to be converting his blood from HIV-positive to HIV-negative had malfunctioned. Rather than returning ozone-treated blood to his body, the device was pumping ozone gas directly into his bloodstream, and the technician in charge of the procedure was nowhere to be found. For a full five seconds the bubble of gas pushed through his system, depriving his heart of blood and causing him to go into cardiac arrest. His right lung partially collapsed.

Von Furstenberg, a 32-year-old nurse from Melbourne, was one of twenty terminally ill Australians who had paid $3000 for what was billed as a life-saving four-week trip to an innovative clinic on the Philippine island of Cebu. What the patients had in fact endured since their arrival in late February, he says, was an unmitigated nightmare: The conditions at the "clinic", a small two-story home replete with cockroaches and open sewage drains, were squalid. The no-protein diet amounted to starvation by degrees. Most chilling, the machinery intended to cleanse patients' blood was so unsanitary that those who suffered from cancer were worried they might contract AIDS from HIV-tainted equipment. The meager staff didn't appear troubled about using unsterile tubing to transport blood into cancer patients. The magical ozone gas, clients were assured, would kill both ailments, anyhow.

"We lived in a place worse than the gutter," Von Furstenberg recalls. "A concentration camp, we took to calling it."

The day after his heart failure, Von Furstenberg watched a cancer patient hobble into the so-called insufflation room, where ozone was piped into her rectum. The woman, 22-year-old Jody Baker, returned looking ashen, her belly distended. Less than three hours later, she was dead.

The next day Von Furstenberg fled the Cebu facility, returning to Melbourne. Within a week news of the unlicensed clinic, which was subsequently raided by Philippines authorities, hit the Australian papers. A scandal was born. Headlines roared. TV anchors spoke in grisly detail.

On this side of the Pacific the fiasco would have been just another macabre tale for the tabloids, were it not for one strange circumstance: The man who invented the machine that came close to killing Adam Von Furstenberg, the man who championed the process that apparently killed Jody Baker, was none other than South Florida's con man supreme: Basil Earle Wainwright.

It was Wainwright who reportedly leased clinic operators two of his "Polyatomic Apheresis" machines for a total of $45,000. Wainwright who sent technicians to the Cebu clinic. Wainwright who advised that the terminally ill Australians be put on a no-protein diet. Wainwright who personally guaranteed a doubting Von Furstenberg that he would return from the Philippines HIV-negative. "I called him three times before I left for Cebu," Von Furstenberg says. "He kept pressuring me to buy one of his insufflation units for $2500." A unit similar to the one used on Jody Baker before she died.

The same Wainwright who in the past year has lured a handful of South Floridians into bankrolling his operations, all while he was under federal indictment. The same Wainwright who currently boasts to reporters of running seven "successful studies" with the devices.

The same Basil Wainwright profiled in an April 1992 New Times cover story. When that article was published, the 59-year-old British citizen appeared destined to spend the next dozen years in prison. Jailed in Florida in 1990 on state charges of practicing medicine without a license, he was also awaiting trial on federal fraud charges stemming from his sale of machines he claimed could cure AIDS.

But Wainwright, a chubby, blue-eyed inventor chased from England after being found guilty of 22 counts of fraud, theft, and forgery in that country, has always said he loves America for its "encouragement of the entrepreneurial spirit." Where else can an ex-con allegedly launch yet another fraud from his prison cell?

That's precisely what Wainwright seems to have done last year. While serving his six-year state prison sentence at Florida City's South Florida Reception Center, he organized a new company called Polyatomic Apheresis Inc. (PAI), and enlisted J. Claybrook Lewis, a softspoken disciple, as his partner. Even as Wainwright consented to plead guilty to the state charges in exchange for his freedom, he and Lewis had laid the groundwork for PAI. Within weeks of his release this past May, he was back researching and marketing his revamped cure for AIDS.

And he had plenty of help. Not only was Wainwright aided by a cultish following of ozone believers, but also by a progression of federal judges who unwittingly fostered his activities by freeing him on a $100,000 bond and consenting to delay his federal fraud trial for nearly two years.

PAI's chief product was the Polyatomic Apheresis machine, which, according to the company's literature, uses ozone to cure AIDS. Unlike Wainwright's previous invention (the one that inspired the first round of charges), which piped ozone through a tube and into people's rectums, the new machine was designed to draw blood from patients, treat it with ozone, and then pump it back into the bloodstream.

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