FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Arkansas’ attorney general announced on Wednesday a lawsuit against a Fayetteville medical center for allegedly promoting expensive, unapproved COVID-19 therapies to the local Latino community.
The lawsuit alleges that Arkansas Regenerative Medical Center LTD (ARMC), the firm’s medical director Sarah Knife Chief, M.D., and chiropractor Serge Francois, D.C. “fraudulently promot[ed] to Northwest Arkansas’s Latino community expensive stem cell and ozone therapies, costing upwards of $3,000, to combat COVID-19.”
“I will not allow Arkansans to fall prey to fraudulent COVID cures, especially when the scams take advantage of a language and cultural barrier,” said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. “This business preyed on public fear and targeted a minority community for personal gain. I will continue to work to hold accountable those who exploit consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
According to court records, in June 2020, the attorney general’s office received reports that ARMC was using a local radio station, Le Zeta 95.7 FM, to target the Latino community in Northwest Arkansas.
According to the reports, ARMC was offering COVID-19 tests for $160, and, if the patient tested positive, ARMC offered a “cure” for $3000.
The suit claims ARMC also advertised on its website and Facebook page stem cell treatments and ozone therapy, claiming that they were “very effective” against COVID-19 and would allow employees to return to work more quickly.
The CDC states there are no known drugs or other therapeutics presently approved by the FDA to prevent or treat COVID-19.
Ricardo Cardena, a La Zeta radio personality, was employed part-time at ARMC.
According to the records, Cardena allegedly “greeted patients and put them at ease, telling them that ‘…everything will be okay, because I know what is happening. I am the ‘el Gallo de la Zeta.'”
According to ARMC, Cardenas was hired to “provide translator services, to serve as a patient advocate, and to advise ARMC regarding ARMC’s social media marketing.”
The lawsuit was filed in Washington County Circuit Court under the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The attorney general’s office says it will seek restitution for “affected consumers, civil penalties, injunctive relief and other costs and fees incurred by the State of Arkansas in resolving this issue for consumers.”
In a response to the allegations, ARMC claims it “has not extracted unusual profits from the testing. ARMC has not tried to push its regenerative testing on patients seeking testing.”
“ARMC has not led patients to believe they were receiving any benefit ARMC did not actually believe they were receiving. Even though ARMC believes it has done nothing wrong, ARMC is considering discontinuing its provision of Covid-19 antibody tests due to the backlash it has received. Hopefully, this reduction in testing availability does not cause harmful ripples through the Northwest Arkansas Hispanic community and the crucial U.S. food chain supply that is based in Northwest Arkansas and completely reliant on a health (sic) Hispanic community.”Extract from ARMC’s response to Attorney General Rutledge
Court documents related to this case are available below: