Basil Earle Wainwright slumps forward, stubby fingers pressed at the temples, head drooped to reveal strands of hair combed across bare scalp. A bottomless sigh whooshes through his lips, completing the pose he has carefully crafted to suggest a withering martyr: Jesus, perhaps, spared the cross and sent into the desert of middle age, paunched about the belly, neck flesh hanging like a turtle's, blue eyes radiating penitence.
With a little less betrayal, Wainwright says, humankind could have had it all: autos that run forever, an end to world hunger, eradication of toxic waste. His latest innovation - no less than a cure for AIDS - offered a miracle to dwarf the loaves and fish. Instead, authorities in South Florida branded the 58-year-old Englishman a quack and a con man and threw him into a prison on the edge of nowhere.
For more than a year he's been left to rot, most recently in the Dade Correctional Institution, his health deteriorating, his heart close to seizing up and calling it quits a dozen times. All for sticking a tube up people's rumps and piping in a bit of magic ozone gas. For this he pleaded guilty to state charges of practicing medicine without a license.
Today he's facing fraud charges in federal court. But the ten-count indictment doesn't begin to trace Basil Wainwright's legacy, a tangled web spun from tantalizing myths, guru charm, and a seemingly endless skein of techno-babble. From his earliest scams in England to his arrest in Pompano Beach on October 11, 1990, Wainwright left a trail of rubes littered across two continents, and frittered away millions of their dollars.
To the self-divined inventor/scientist/humanitarian and his cabal of supporters, money is hardly the issue. His fraud trial, slated to begin this month, will be a shot at resurrection. He plans not only to beat the rap, for which he faces up to sixteen years in prison, but to show the world that his ozone therapy can defeat AIDS and the world's other "incurable" diseases. "This is a conspiracy which, I dare say, is probably worse than Watergate," Wainwright hisses. "I've been seen as an embarrassment to certain entities and someone who's got to be stopped, which is a terrible shame because a lot of people will probably certainly die without our process being available.
"All I want is for the truth to come to light. The truth," he says, and for a moment Wainwright's use of the word renders it utterly, gloriously meaningless.
"Old Basil always talked a good game," remarks Dermot McCann, the no-nonsense detective who led the British investigation into Wainwright's dealings. "I'd listen to him go off in court and he was like a preacher or something, come to save the world. People believed him. A lot of people. That's the sad thing. He didn't just steal people's money, he stole their bloody hope."
Basil Wainwright was born a charmer. The youngest son of a prominent automotive engineer, he grew up in the town of Swindon, a tow-headed kid doted on by the family. "He was the sweetest little guy," recalls his sister, Audrey Richards, who lives in Kentucky. "Everyone loved him. I remember taking Basil to the circus when he was just five or six, holding his warm little hand in mine. When I moved to the States, he was the one I missed the most."
Wainwright was seven when World War II began, and he recounts a childhood straight out of the film Hope and Glory. "We had a lovely little home by the Great Western Rail Works, and so as children the sirens were constantly going off," he remembers. "We had a shelter at the bottom of our garden and Dad used to usher us down there. Mum was always terrified, but after a while we got a bit blase about it. We used to come up and my brother and I would climb the fence above the garden and watch the old dogfights going on." When he was ten, the family moved north to war-scarred Birmingham, where he would arrive at school some days to find that one of his little schoolmates had been "smashed to bits by the bombing."
A zeal for science blossomed early. He remembers tinkering with circuits and light bulbs as a kid, and listening spellbound as his father, a novice inventor, delivered training lectures to Allied flyers. Wainwright claims he was ready for college at age fifteen but dropped out after a motorcycle accident cracked his noggin. Instead, he studied at home, becoming - as his curriculum vitae notes - "completely auto-didact."
Despite intellectual proclivities, Wainwright spent his young adulthood chasing decidedly frivolous dreams. During the Fifties he rode with a motorcycle racing team and drummed in a series of jazz bands, including the Basil Wainwright All-Stars. He also amassed a rap sheet for crimes ranging from receiving stolen goods to obtaining credit by fraud.
A dabbler in the auto trade, Wainwright later bought and sold two garages and worked in the family's car-repair business until a dispute over his father's will - and the dearth of money bequeathed to him - sent him off on his own. In 1975 he launched a venture producing specialized van bodies. Three years later the company, Comlec, was liquidated with debts of almost $70,000.
But by that time the muse of invention had grabbed hold of Wainwright. Inspired by his father, he began cranking out blueprints by the dozen. In 1978 he approached BSG International with plans for a fuel-saving ignition system. Eager to capitalize on the oil crisis, the auto-parts company invested $45,000. After two years of funding, BSG filed suit, claiming Wainwright owed some $210,000 and noting that his device actually caused damage in test vehicles.
A lesser mind might have judged this turn of events a setback and sought a new line of work. But Wainwright, a man who claims to hold nearly 600 patents, sensed that the world was hungry for his technology. And so, setting a precedent that would guide the next two decades of his life, he bundled up his ideas and flew across the Atlantic to find new financial backers.
Wainwright calls his 1978 meeting with Carroll Shelby "my first fatal mistake." Indeed, it's likely that the backing of Shelby, revered race-car driver and designer of the Cobra sports car, allowed the budding con man's American schemes to take flight.
Shelby was persuaded to invest in a second ignition system, this one humbly dubbed "The Ultimate." He took the project, which supposedly supercharged spark plugs, to the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan, where engineers briefly tested, and soon dropped, the idea. But Wainwright was able to parlay his connections with Shelby and Ford into instant credibility.
Michigan businessman Robert Coady was so dazzled by Wainwright's patter that he shelled out $100,000 for marketing rights to yet another Wainwright concept, a rearview mirror that dimmed automatically when headlights approached from behind. Wainwright enlisted Coady as his assistant and soon assembled a team of workers/investors in Britain and the States under the banner Wainwright International. Using his newly acquired company funds, he set up house 35 miles south of Detroit, in Monroe.
"It was exciting stuff," Coady recalls. "You got the sense he was out there to accomplish something ordinary people couldn't. We used to dream that the mirror would become standard equipment, like the seat belt. Sounds silly now, but he made it seem real."
Moxie was key to Wainwright's larger-than-life allure. "Parking in a no-parking zone was to be expected," says Coady, who abandoned a successful Volkswagen repair shop to work full-time on the rearview mirror project, and later, the Ultimate ignition system that Ford had turned down. "He talked his way out of tickets constantly. He toured Ford's plant like he owned the place. One time we visited Daytona racetrack and they wouldn't let Basil into the pit area. So he spotted these workers grabbing bags of oil-drying sawdust and, sure enough, picked up a bag and carried it right in. That tickled me to death." (An even more cavalier bluff, recounted by several former associates, was Wainwright's penchant for propositioning women in front of their husbands.)
Wainwright International's few actual sales, however, inevitably fizzled. "We installed the ignition system in a fleet of postal cars in Maryland," Coady recalls. "Basil said the sale was for-sure. But a couple of weeks later I talked with a guy who told me the system didn't work at all. For two years I ran around with my tongue hanging out, salivating, waiting for the big order to come through."
Meanwhile, Wainwright was jetting back and forth from England to Michigan, drumming up new investors and living like a traveling dignitary. In addition to using company cash to appoint his Monroe home with a huge water bed surrounded by mirrors, Wainwright favored plush hotel suites. "The house didn't seem enough," notes Coady, who figures he squandered a total of $200,000 on Wainwright International. "I asked him about that one time and he said, `In my position, you have to maintain certain appearances.'"
Those appearances also seduced Robert Alexander, a soft-spoken tool and die manufacturer who paid $100,000 for the Canadian distribution rights to the Ultimate ignition system. Alexander says his initial doubts were quelled by Wainwright's assurances of massive funding. Throughout 1980 he worked nonstop on establishing contacts in his home town of Oakville, Ontario, spending thousands on a slick company brochure.
As Wainwright grew more remote and his spending habits more lavish, the knots in Alexander's stomach constricted. Revelation came on a blustery winter night in early 1981. With the bank preparing foreclosure on his house, the father of five raced home from a late-night meeting in Detroit. He conceded that Wainwright might be a swindler. But his faith in the ignition system, with which he had recently equipped his new car, remained unbending. "I thought I was getting good results with it," he says. "That's what mattered."
Then, an hour outside Oakville, his car broke down.
With Wainwright's U.S. ventures crumbling, his efforts shifted back to merry old England, where he spotted a newspaper article lauding a new, compact engine designed by Warwickshire inventor Fred Stidworthy. Wainwright cabled Stidworthy and arranged a meeting.
"He showed up at my house with Carroll Shelby, who he said was his partner in the U.S., and that just sold the whole thing to me," Stidworthy recalls. "I found out years later that Shelby had been chasing Basil across England trying to get his money back. But of course Basil knew Shelby would be too polite to say anything to me. It was quite a neat move, actually."
Wainwright recruited Stidworthy as director of a new company, Tomorrow's World Developments, and immediately set about promoting the so-called Butterfly car. One of his first moves was to call a meeting of potential investors at Birmingham's Excelsior Hotel. Among those invited was Alan Sykes, the Manchester engineer who had actually designed the Ultimate ignition system. When Sykes arrived, he was shocked to find himself introduced to a roomful of journalists as the Butterfly project's "technical director."
Wainwright billed the vehicle, which in styling sketches resembled a squashed AMC Pacer, as a revolutionary economy car, capable of 130 miles per gallon and 100 mph. With the British auto industry in a permanent slump, reporters devoured the eye-popping claims. In newspaper and television reports, Wainwright spoke confidently of the Butterfly's imminent production, weaving monologues from impressive-sounding, and entirely nonsensical, technical jargon.
During the filming of a BBC television segment about the Butterfly, Wainwright struck up a conversation with the host, Noel Edmonds. The famed broadcasting personality, known for his good looks and acid wit, confessed his dream of winning the coveted Cowes-to-Torquay boat race and breaking the world's water speed record. The prospect was more than Wainwright could resist. In early 1981, at the ritzy Hilton Hotel in Stratford, he and Edmonds unveiled to the press the Excalibur project. The vessel's "hydro-wing design," conceived by Stidworthy, featured a massive underwater engine connected by stanchion to a raised cockpit. It looked more like a spaceship than a speedboat.
Despite his shady past and a growing stable of disgruntled investors, Wainwright's notoriety rocketed. He was asked to comment about government projects and invited to speak before the House of Commons. "Basil fancied himself Britain's version of DeLorean," Stidworthy says. "But you could see he was just ridiculously overextended."
A quick check on the Excalibur bank account confirmed the hunch. Edmonds's infusion of $120,000 had evaporated. Stidworthy contacted Edmonds and other backers, eventually piecing together the extent of Wainwright's monetary shell game. A furious Edmonds then devised a con of his own.
On the afternoon of July 3, 1981, Basil Wainwright was flying higher than ever. As BBC cameras rolled, he clambered into the cockpit of the Excalibur mockup, stowed in a hangar outside Birmingham. Nestled five feet off the ground, the chubby impresario was holding court again, glibly forecasting the project's future glories in an interview with Edmonds. Suddenly, the tone of questioning turned ugly. If you're so confident, Edmonds said, I'd like my money back.
"It was the classic sting, really," says Stidworthy, who witnessed the confrontation, "because Basil suddenly realized Noel was serious. And you could see the change in his face. He went pale. Then Basil did the worst thing possible. He ran. Literally ran away. It was a kind of trial by TV. You had all these people with lights and cameras chasing after him. This went on for an hour, Wainwright trying to run away and Noel screaming after him and all these factory workers pouring out of the surrounding factories to see this big row. You couldn't conjure the scene if you tried. It was beyond a soap opera."
Police hastily launched a probe, and the Fleet Street boys who once sang his praises in the papers had a ball unraveling Wainwright's affairs. The Butterfly factory, they discovered, consisted of little more than a garden shed. Beneath Wainwright's aristocratic family crest and boasts of wealth, reporters noted that his personal mansion consisted of a small, government-subsidized home, previously owned by his mother-in-law. One paper even exposed how his company had submitted fake footage of the Butterfly to the BBC. (The network cut the segment, allegedly filmed in Michigan, after noting the test car was being driven on the left side of the road.)
"He was supremely confident nonetheless," says Dermot McCann, the Kidderminster, England, detective who arrested Wainwright in October of 1981. "He came strutting into my office most indignant at the inconvenience." Apparently determined to live up to his newspaper nickname, "King Con," Wainwright, while awaiting trial, sought publicity for two new gas-saving cars. When he finally came to court in April 1983, the indictment listed 22 counts of theft, fraud, and forgery.
During the five-week proceeding, which featured 47 witnesses, 300 exhibits, and the nation's press corps, prosecutors detailed Wainwright's transatlantic spending rampage and his transparent attempts to fudge company books. Wainwright allegedly used money earmarked for research to remodel his bathroom, buy a BMW, and - in a bombshell that sent reporters scurrying for their keyboards - pay maintenance costs for his mistress' love child.
Detective McCann, now Kidderminster's chief inspector, says the case itself was merely a glimpse of Wainwright's handiwork, severely limited in scope because so many of the larger businesses suckered by Wainwright refused to come forward.
Wainwright himself dismisses the whole affair as a conspiracy engineered by Edmonds and his chums in the media, embittered academics, and the British military, who he says were hungry to swipe his patents. "The trial itself was a sham," he says with disgust. "Noel's testimony was so ridiculous that literally everyone in the courtroom fell about laughing. On the last day we all went out during lunch break and celebrated. When the jury came back and found me guilty on all 22 counts, I couldn't catch my breath. Neither could the judge."
In meting out a three-year sentence, Judge John Lee did manage to regain his composure long enough to assess the defendant: "I am satisfied," he told Wainwright, "and so is the jury, that you are thoroughly dishonest."
For a man so convinced of his innocence, Basil Wainwright proved to be a dream prisoner. A regular at chapel services and an obedient worker, he served less than a third of his sentence, leaving Leyhill minimum-security prison on May 5, 1984, with the best wishes of his friend, the warden. A year later, however, he pleaded guilty to supplying customers yet another fraudulent gas-saving device. The automotive world, he concluded, wasn't ready for his genius.
By 1986 Wainwright realized a return to the States was in order. "I love the cut and thrust of America," he explains. "You don't get all these Mickey Mouse games like in England, where people suddenly start screaming fraud when things don't work out." This time around his entree to the New World was ozone, a bluish gas Wainwright had been using to purify water and stimulate plant growth in numerous inventions. Composed of three oxygen atoms, the volatile allotrope accounts for the odd-smelling afterburn of a lightning storm. Best known as our atmosphere's eroding protective layer, ozone is also a component of smog in the lower atmosphere. Though toxic to the respiratory system, it is a potent killer of bacteria, used by holistic healers in Europe to doctor everything from the common cold to gangrene.
Wainwright initially hooked up with Medizone, a New York outfit developing ozone as a blood decontaminant. The company sent him to Tucson, Arizona, to assist in building an "ozone generator" that could produce the gas in fixed concentrations. After a brief and rancorous stint as a consultant, Wainwright left Medizone in the spring of 1988 and hooked up with Don Greene, a fellow ex-con who had served time for fraud. The two formed Decadata Research to mass-produce their own ozone generators. Again Wainwright was careful to sign on only as a consultant. Salary: $10,000 per month.
While Medizone hoped to use an ozone generator for preliminary medical research, Decadata hawked its hastily constructed machines as a cure for everything from AIDS to Alzheimer's disease. The device pumped ozone through a plastic tube that, when inserted rectally or vaginally, sent the gas into the bloodstream to destroy disease. Wainwright quickly pulled together a team and began gathering investors, even going so far as to call Robert Coady to offer him a piece of the action.
In the groping world of the terminally ill, Wainwright's pitch hit home. He quickly found money in the Tucson area, says Michael Reuben, who paid Decadata $30,000 for a share of the anticipated profits. Wainwright also traveled to New Jersey, where, he claims, he worked "24 hours a day" on ozone research. Among his other activities, he enticed toy company owner Michael Albarelli and his nephew Charles Ciolino to put up a total of more than $300,000 for marketing rights to ozone generators, as well as proceeds from a clinic he promised to open in Mexico.
Albarelli even traveled to Anchorage, Alaska, at Decadata's behest, so his wife could undergo treatment for her Alzheimer's with a doctor there who championed ozone therapy. "I was just praying they could arrest the disease, at least for a while," he says ruefully. "We spent a whole damn month up there and it didn't do a bit of good. They stuck her with needles every day. Every time I think of what I put that woman through, I could scream."
Not content to limit his activities to fund raising, Wainwright also lined up experiments to prove ozone's efficacy. With the help of doctors in San Francisco and a Tucson gynecologist named Scott Ricke, Wainwright coordinated a study in June 1988 involving five AIDS patients. The men, all deathly ill, were flown down from California treated for ten days in a makeshift clinic perched in the hills above the border town of Nogales, Mexico. Doctors piped ozone into the men's rectums - a procedure called "insufflation" - and drew their blood and treated it with the gas, documenting near-miraculous improvement in breathless daily logs.
Though all five patients have since died, the immediate results prompted Ricke to pen a letter asserting that "all indications favor a reduction, if not a complete elimination, of the AIDS virus." Sent by Decadata to study ozone in West Germany during the summer of 1988, Ricke wanted the company to affiliate with a university for further studies. He also urged Decadata to pursue another AIDS study south of the border, which Mexican health officials approved in September, after a visit from company representatives. But Ricke says he broke with the group after they decided instead to launch a for-profit clinic in Mexico.
By April of 1989, Decadata's top officials were feuding over finances, and local backers - who Tucson investor Reuben claims put up close to a million dollars - were clamoring to know how their money was being used. The Arizona attorney general's office was called to check it out, but before they could press charges, Wainwright had skipped town. "The money kind of vanished, just like he did, and we weren't able to do anything except say, `Look out! Here he comes,'" notes John Evans, the state's assistant attorney general. "Personally, I take my hat off to the guy. I mean, here he was, a convicted felon, parading in front of the press, and everyone just eats it up. That's nerve. Absolute nerve."
Wainwright reassembled his entourage in San Diego and established another company, Anglo-American Research. He quickly began scouting a location for the Mexican clinic and settled on a palatial Mexican hacienda called Rancho Cuchuma in the border town of Tecate, southeast of San Diego. Alvin Bojar, another New Jersey businessman, says his investment group poured $300,000 into the endeavor. Bojar, who met Wainwright in February 1989, remembers being impressed that the Englishman was able to elicit approval for a modest ozone test program in St. Michael's Hospital in Newark.
The two men lunched and Bojar later invited Wainwright to present his sales pitch before a gathering of potential backers. "He came out and spoke to these people with tears rolling down his cheeks," says Bojar. "It was always, `I don't want anything for myself, as long as we can help cure the sick.' One investor listened to his spiel and wrote him a check - boom! - for $10,000."
In May Bojar's group signed a lease on the Rancho Cuchuma property and began renovations. Wainwright headed north to find wealthy gringo patients for the health hospice. Among those he schmoozed was Carl Parsons, a well-known figure in Hollywood, who promised to set up appointments with such show business heavies as Cher, Jane Fonda, Warren Beatty, and of course, Shirley MacLaine. But Bojar says a dispute arose when he discovered Wainwright was selling ozone generators to patients and private doctors when they were intended for use in the clinic. The sale of ozone generators was not only a violation of faith, but of federal law - the machines have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
In July investor Bojar received a stack of articles documenting Wainwright's past, and cut off all monies. Wainwright and his retinue retaliated by moving onto the Rancho Cuchuma property. Bojar says Mexican federales eventually rousted the squatters, whereupon Wainwright headed off to the Svengali's last frontier: South Florida.
Wainwright came to Broward County in November of 1989 at the invitation of John Waldron, an engineer who hoped to collaborate with the inventor in developing ozone technology. But Wainwright, never one to focus the beam of his genius too narrowly, soon expanded Anglo-American's scope. With his colleagues, he launched a frenetic campaign of pseudo-research, holistic treatment, and pure hucksterism.
Business wasn't hard to find in South Florida, where a multitude of sickly seniors and holistic healers gulped down Wainwright's promises. Ozone became a panacea equally capable of atomizing yeast infections and cancer. He preached the therapy to droves of terminally ill patients in Broward hotel seminars, and lectured on a local alternative-health radio program. Wainwright rapidly built a cultish following, operating a Fort Lauderdale clinic that changed locations three times, and peddling ozone generators through a marketing division headed by long-time collaborator John Frizzell.
As always he dallied on the fringe of science, exaggerating his affiliations with legitimate ozone researchers. He claimed, for instance, to be providing machinery and technical expertise to Dr. Phil Tierno, a New York University professor considering an ozone experiment with chimpanzees.
Tierno does remember meeting with Wainwright and his associates. Barely. The summit took place in an Orlando hotel during the Tierno family's annual Disney World vacation. "I didn't even know this gentleman Wainwright was coming. His basic interest seemed to be, `What's for lunch?'" the microbiologist recalls. "I do remember he gave me his business card. It was the most bizarre card I've ever seen. It was black. I'd never received a black business card."
Wainwright maintains that the sale of ozone products (Anglo-American sold everything from ozone generators to ozonated olive oil) was intended purely to fund his research and support staff. But Anne Rousseau, a nutritionist who worked closely with Wainwright for six months, says the sale of machines - which ran anywhere from $4000 to $7500 despite costing less than $1000 to produce - was always the goal.
Rousseau met Wainwright in late 1989 and eventually came to work at his Fort Lauderdale clinic, where patients received a treatment that included insufflation, an ozonated bath, and a rubdown. Initially, she says, he played a quixotic prophet battling the medical establishment: "Basil would say, `Look what Christ did.' He was a born-again, you know. On Sunday mornings he would have gospel shows and TV evangelists on. He was very gentle with patients and did a lot of treatment for free. At one level of his consciousness, he was totally convinced that he was nothing but a well-meaning, far-ahead-thinking hero."
When Rousseau questioned Wainwright about the legality of treating patients and selling ozone devices, he repeatedly assured her he was working with full governmental approval. He also boasted of substantial backing from European investors and initiated a second project aimed at perfecting a blood-purification system. Rousseau, who maintains an abiding faith in ozone as a "supportive modality," says patients did improve after therapy, though she was suspicious as to why Wainwright kept changing the location of his clinic.
But her relationship with Wainwright soured in July 1990, after the two traveled to Bethesda, Maryland, to meet with Red Cross officials. Rousseau says he refused to reimburse her for her plane ticket, so she drew the funds from a joint business account. Wainwright threatened to call the police. Rousseau beat him to the punch, contacting Fort Lauderdale fraud detective Joe Roubicek and, at the bidding of her daughter, breaking all ties with Wainwright.
"When my daughter pulled me off the project, Basil came to my office and asked me to pray with him," Rousseau remembers. "He turned off all the lights and took me aside and said, `Forgive her, for she knows not what she's done.' I was like, `Right!'" The soft sell having failed, Rousseau says Wainwright took to leaving threatening messages on her answering machine and sending couriers to drop off nasty letters.
By this time, however, Roubicek's criminal probe was in full swing. And a strange probe it was. Roubicek fielded calls from all over the U.S., many from disgruntled customers complaining that Anglo-American's wonder machines had broken down. (Roubicek estimates the company sold anywhere from 100 to 200. Subsequent tests, conducted by a University of Miami Medical School professor, indicated the device cranked out potentially dangerous doses of ozone.) A few folks phoned to defend Wainwright, only to hang up before Roubicek could question them. Then came the inquiries from British reporters - more than 100 at latest count.
Even as his probe was nearing its fateful conclusion, Roubicek says Wainwright and his associates conducted business as if they were invulnerable to arrest. On October 2, 1990, for instance, John Frizzell contacted Pompano Beach police to complain that he had been ripped off by Terry Meier, the man who supplied the ozone generators. Roubicek says Meier was in fact owed $100,000 by Anglo-American and pulled the sting to recoup some of his money.
The next day police received the strangest ozone-related call yet, a cruelty-to-animals complaint lodged against a Pompano business called Therapy 2000. Officers arrived to find a dog, a cat, and the proprietor, Albert Becker, amid a scattering of odd veterinary supplies. Visibly nervous, Becker informed animal-regulation officers that he was running a research center for the treatment of sick animals using oxygen therapy. And how had Becker gotten involved in such a queer venture? The seed money, he said, was provided by one Basil Wainwright.
A week later police raided Wainwright's Pompano home and arrested him. Prosecutors then divvied up the case, with the Broward State Attorney's Office pursuing charges of practicing medicine without a license and the feds building a more ambitious fraud case. Wainwright and three British associates were named in a federal fraud indictment handed down in April 1991, but two fled the country. The third, salesman Robert D. Geary, is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center while awaiting trial.
Attorney James Eddy, who handled Wainwright's defense against the state charges, lobbied his client to accept a plea agreement that would have allowed him to serve state and federal sentences concurrently. Wainwright refused, though this past January he finally agreed to plead guilty to the state charges and accept a sentence of six years. He is expected to serve less than two years.
But Wainwright refuses to bargain on his federal charges, and throughout legal proceedings has flatly denied any wrongdoing. Despite the Food and Drug Administration's assertion that ozone has "no known medical application," he contends its use is legal due to "pre-existing patents." He also claims he had secured FDA approval for his activities, though prosecutors say the only correspondence they know of are two letters from an FDA investigator advising Wainwright that ozone generators are not legal.
Rather predictably, Wainwright calls his latest incarceration, which began more than eighteen months ago, a "blatant case of government sabotage." He insists the results of his last two blood-purification experiments were so startling that as-yet-unidentified authorities conspired to put the squeeze on him. The first test, conducted in March 1990, allegedly converted a vial of blood from HIV-positive to HIV-negative. Wainwright says the results were generated by a Miami-based lab called Biotest, but no phone listing exists for Biotest in Dade County.
A second, more ambitious, study was undertaken in the fall of 1990. In this experiment, blood was removed from three AIDS patients, ozonated, then pumped back in. One subject showed such dramatic improvement, Wainwright says, that he would have turned HIV-negative if testing had continued. But on the eve of the ninth session, just days after the astonishing lab results were released, Wainwright was arrested. Coincidence? He thinks not.
The subject, a North Miami resident who requested anonymity, recalls the experiments a bit less heroically. He remembers arriving at a doctor's office for the first treatment and being shocked to find a roomful of observers, including flamboyant Miami attorney Ellis Rubin. (Rubin admits he was there, at the request of his client, the late James Paul, Sr., an AIDS sufferer who helped organize the study. But Rubin says he left because he "saw what was going on and didn't like it." He would not say whether he advised his client that taking part in a medical experiment with an unapproved drug was, in fact, illegal.)
This star subject, who suffers from AIDS-related complex, adds that he did experience an upswing in disease-fighting T-4 cells during the six weeks of testing. But that, he notes, could have been due to any number of factors.
Prone to outbursts in court, Wainwright has parted ways with a series of lawyers, including one from Ellis Rubin's firm, which he originally hired to represent him. He has also found time to pen a letter to his federal prosecutor, munificently advising that he drop the fraud case to avoid further embarrassment. Last but not least, during last year's bombing of Iraq, Wainwright devised two new military inventions and sent them along - free of charge - to the brass at Homestead Air Force Base.
In light of all this, Wainwright says the federal government's delay in bringing him to trial is unconscionable. (Court records, however, indicate that his attorneys have sought continuances as frequently as prosecutors.) Additional outrage has come from a band of disciples who regard Wainwright as something approaching a messiah. "What they're doing to this man is beyond an injustice," huffs New Yorker Gerry Rennerts, who as president of Sludge Disposal International, Ltd., insists Wainwright technology can revolutionize waste management. At the core of the vigil is Wainwright's wife Marjorie, who has accompanied her spouse during much of his American odyssey, and his son Wayne. Both remain camped in Pompano Beach, awaiting a resolution to the case.
No one is more anxious for Wainwright to stand trial, however, than Roland Smith. The Pembroke Pines man, a key witness in the federal indictment, attended a July 1990 seminar sponsored by Anglo-American, in hopes that ozone technology might halt the spread of his wife's lung cancer. A week later his wife, daughter, and granddaughter visited Wainwright at his clinic and paid $50 apiece for insufflation treatments. In August he paid the company $7500 for an ozone generator.
Three months later his wife showed no improvement and Smith demanded his money back. "I'd like to see the guy put away for 10,000 years," says the semiretired photographer, who never received a refund. "What they do is just sick. They prey on people who are incapable of making a rational decision." Had his wife sought radiation treatment instead of falling for the ozone pitch, Smith says, she might have been spared the removal of a lung.
Like other victims, Smith asserts that even if Wainwright wangles his way out of prison in the States, he wants to see the inventor deported to England, where Scotland Yard will have another crack at him. But the silver-tongued rogue may have a jolly homecoming in store. "From what I'm told, he'll be a big celebrity over there," says fraud detective Roubicek. "I know he'll be on all the talk shows."
That kind of exposure would suit Basil Wainwright just fine, observes Kent Neal, the Broward prosecutor who handled the state case. "With a guy like Basil, half the scam is ego," says Neal. "He wanted to be all the things he claimed to be: a successful inventor, a renowned scientist and humanitarian. For a guy like him, with no formal education, the idea of being important was important. Maybe he never lived up to his father's expectations. Who knows what the sociologists would say?" It was this egomania, according to Neal, that predicated Wainwright's downfall: "The really good con men stay out of the limelight, and Basil just couldn't stand that. He started to believe his own con."
A veteran of twelve years as a fraud prosecutor, Neal admits he was a bit disappointed when Wainwright accepted a plea bargain on the state charges. "I'd learned how to use the ozone generator and everything," he says, "although I never could get anybody to volunteer for an insufflation. I even offered to help Basil after he started complaining about his heart."
Wainwright's current defense attorney, Kenneth Sterns, insists his client's condition is dead serious. "There's a real issue as to whether he is fit to stand trial in federal court," Sterns says. "Ideally we'd like to work out a plea that will get him out of prison infirmaries and into a hospital where he belongs. But Mr. Wainwright wants to go to trial. He seems to feel it's a matter of principle."
Wainwright is a curious sight amid the mostly young, black inmates at the Dade Correctional Institution near Florida City - a pale, bespectacled codger shuffling along in an ill-fitting jump suit, head bowed in the manner of a scolded puppy. He still conveys his delusions emphatically, but these days with a hollow echo, like an actor reading lines into an empty performance hall. A failing heart, he says, has sapped his strength.
To veteran Wainwright-watchers, the pulmonary ailment smacks of malingering. "He says he has a dodgy heart, does he? He did that here, as well," notes British detective Dermot McCann. But doctors say Wainwright would have to be a whiz at biofeedback to generate the abnormal rhythms they're hearing. A battery of diagnostic tests conducted over the past year has done little to identify the problem, and the half-dozen physicians who have examined him, including two specialists, all offer different diagnoses. "Mr. Wainwright appears to have a cardiomyopathy of unknown origin," ventures Dr. Robert Smith, chief physician at the South Florida Reception Center in Northwest Dade, where Wainwright spent most of January. "It's the type of condition that could cause a malignant rhythm at any time, and result in sudden cardiac death."
No one's quite sure what to do about it. Wainwright was offered a pacemaker at one point but turned it down, claiming it would be blasphemous to tamper with the organ that embodies his God-given spirit. More recently, physicians have prescribed a varying diet of medications, for which Wainwright generously reciprocated by supplying the doctors with bundles of ozone literature. "I've never seen anything like it," Dr. Smith remarks earnestly. "The man has a very confusing heart.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.