Man pleads guilty in stem cell scheme

Mike Martin needed a medical miracle.

Diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease, the Houston man tried to find help in what authorities said was a scheme to illegally harvest and sell stem cells.

On Wednesday, 42-year-old Vincent Dammai of South Carolina pleaded guilty in federal court in Houston for his role in the scheme. Prosecutors said he processed stem cells at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston without approval from the Food and Drug Administration or the university.

Martin, the owner of a Houston-based landscaping business, was among the victims of the scam, prosecutors said. Martin was diagnosed in 2009 and died two years later.

He paid $47,000 after hearing of a treatment based on stem cell injections and a cocktail of herbs and vitamins that promised to reverse the terminal illness.

"I told him it was a glorified spa treatment," said Martin's sister, Katie Martin. "But he said, 'No. It's my only hope.' So I shut my mouth."

The charges against Dammai were the result of an FBI and FDA investigation into the manufacture and distribution of stem cells in the treatment of human autoimmune diseases such as Parkinson's.

"Mike needed a medical miracle," Martin said. "They said he'd be able to live and would never even need a wheelchair."

Dammai admitted using university facilities to harvest and process stem cells, for which he was paid more than $161,000.

He was hired in 2006 only to conduct research into kidney cancer and had no formal training in processing stem cells, officials said.

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Man pleads guilty in stem cell scheme

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