Modern-day ‘Snake Oil’ Salesman Sentenced to 13 Years in Prison After Bizarre ‘Cures’ Lead to Deaths

Although he claimed to have been motivated only by a desire to help people, in the end Brian O’Connell’s legacy will always remain one of deceit and death.

While O’Connell held himself out as a doctor who had unconventional cures for terminally ill cancer patients, his bizarre treatments did no such thing. In fact, they sound reminiscent of the kind of cure-all remedies sold off the back of covered wagons by the so-called “snake oil” salesmen of yesteryear.

“Photoluminescence treatments (blood exposed to light and then mixed with hydrogen peroxide before being reinjected into the “patient”) and “Black Salve” treatments (extracting cancer through the skin) were the scams through which O’Connell gave false hope to terminally ill cancer victims and their families. O’Connell made money, his “patients” just got sicker or died.

On Monday, O’Connell, 37, was sentenced to 13 years in prison after pleading to charges of criminally negligent homicide, practicing medicine without a license, theft, assault, and perjury.

O’Connell presented himself as a doctor of naturopathy, telling his “patients” he was qualified to administer these unconventional cures for some of the most serious diseases known to man; diseases for which medical science has not found any cures. Some of his “patients” and their families even believed O’Connell was a licensed medical doctor.

Actually, he had no real medical credentials and his “degree” was from a correspondence school. That might be alright for a computer programmer or paralegal, but it seems a bit inadequate for someone who plans to treat cancer patients who have exhausted all conventional treatments and are desperately trying to stay alive a little longer.

In addition to the charges he pleaded guilty to, O’Connell was accused of accelerating the deaths of two cancer patients.  In one case, he was also charged with his bizarre therapies to a 17 year-old girl who then suffered a heart attack.

Judge Margie Enquist listened as O’Connell claimed have been motivated by a desire to help people and not out of concern for monetary compensation or “prestige.” O’Connell admitted that he lied about his background.  He did state, however, that he had learned from his mistakes.

Some of the families of O’Connell’s victims were pleased with the sentence. Laura Flanagan, whose 19-year-old son Sean died in 2003 within two weeks of receiving “photoluminescence” blood treatments, said O’Connell “got what he deserved,” calling him a “liar and a crook” without any legitimate medical credentials.

Rory Gallegos, another one of O’Connell’s “patients,” developed a severe blood infection after receiving “Black Salve” treatments that O’Connell claimed would draw his liver cancer out through his skin.  Gallegos, 45, developed large open sores from the corrosive treatments that would bleed continuously.

Gallegos’ widow said that despite the fact that her husband was losing his battle with cancer, O’Connell’s treatment accelerated his death. According to her, “Rory was robbed of dignity in death, robbed of the chance to say his last goodbyes. O’Connell filled Rory’s head with false hope and false promises.”

As strange as it sounds, O’Connell was not without supporters at the sentencing proceeding. In fact one of those supporters is Catherine Bresina whose 17 year-old daughter went into cardiac arrest after receiving a “photoluminescence” treatment from O’Connell.

Although her daughter almost died, Bresina claims that the treatments are a “very good procedure” that “does no harm.”

Many other patients also told Judge Enquist that O’Connell successfully helped them with a variety of ailments.

The prosecution, however, was not as complementary stating O’Connell deceived his patients by filling his office with bogus “credentials” that included one proclaiming O’Connell to be “Physician of the Year.”

The defense argued that patients came to see O’Connell when conventional medicine could no longer help them.  At that point, they were more interested in results than credentials.

The judge did not buy into O’Connell’s claims of altruism, however; nor was she swayed by the testimonials of satisfied patients. She told the fake doctor that he took advantage of people who came to him in desperation. “The seriousness of this case comes not from the number of victims,” said Enquist, “but from the vulnerabilities you exploited for your own gain.” 

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