A northern California man was arrested on suspicion of practicing medicine unlawfully after authorities say he treated a woman in late stage cancer with a “baggie of dirt.”
The Ventura County Interagency Pharmaceutical Crimes Unit and the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office arrested Vincent Gammill, 69, of El Cerrito, on July 9 at his office in Richmond on charges of practicing medicine without a license, dependent adult abuse and furnishing dangerous drugs without a license.
Detectives said they found 25,000 prescription pills including morphine, Ambien, steroids, along with Mexican and Russian drugs at both his office and home. Gammill told detectives he offered alternative options to the traditional treatment of cancer. He also initially said he had no formal education beyond high school, but then “remembered” he had obtained a doctor of science degree sometime in the 1990s, according to Ventury County Detective Robert Davidson.
Davidson also told NBC Bay Area that Gammill's bail was set at $10,000 and he was later booked in Contra Costa County jail, but as of Friday, he was out of custody.
When reached by phone on Friday, Gammill denied to NBC Bay Area that he prescribed his patient dirt and denied that any dirt was used at all.
He also said he doesn't "treat" patients. Rather his Natural Oncology Institute is an "instructional program," which patients can choose to follow or not. He used these therapies for his own cancer, he said.
The woman involved, Gammill said, is an actress. "I think she just wants to be in the limelight."
He said he is being represented by a Santa Barbara attorney, who was not immediately available for comment on Friday.
In June, a 49-year-old Thousand Oaks woman reported that she sought Gammill’s treatment after finding his website in 2009. His site touts “alternative and complementary care” for people with cancer. The website also offers a five-day "Mango Retreat Program," in Del Mar, in "walking distance" to the Pacific Ocean. Gammill wrote on his company website that he was diagnosed with cancer, as well, in 2009 and chose both conventional and alternative cancer strategies to help. He saw his last formal oncologist in 2010.
Davidson said that agents started investigating the case after the woman told the Thousand Oaks East County Sheriff’s Office that she had been scammed out of $2,000 and harmed by Gammill’s practices.
Gammill reportedly treated the woman with baggies filled with dirt, powders, liquids and other commercial medicines that were past their expiration dates, authorities said.
During one of her visits to his office, Gammill instructed the woman on how to mix the ingredients into capsules before taking them, the pharmaceutical investigators said. At one point in the visit, authorities said Gammill brought out a large frying pan and told her that one of the compounds could burn a hole through the table. After the woman felt a burning sensation in her stomach, Gammill reportedly told her this was a good because it meant the ingredients were still active.
The Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials team was called to Gammill’s office to “render it safe” after investigators reportedly found bottles labeled “corrosive” and “poison” in his laboratory, agents said. Investigators did not find any record of Gammill having any medical training upon his arrest.
In 1989, Drug and Enforcement Agents found more than 1,000 types of dangerous chemicals at a lab that Gammill owned. In court papers, Gammill argued that he ran a legitimate lab, and the chemicals the agents found were used to make fuel additive, naval jelly and dextran sulfate, which was a common underground AIDS treatment.
But DEA agents said that the lab was actually an "operational methamphetamine lab."
Gammill was charged with conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, but he moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing in California's appeals court that the government violated his "due process rights by its bad faith destruction of potentially exculpatory evidence."
Eventually, in 1992, a judge overturned Gammill's conviction.
Gammill is scheduled to appear in Ventura County Superior Court on Aug. 31.
NBC Bay Area's Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report.