A Florida health spa, popular with many Canadians battling cancer and other serious illnesses, is being sued by former staff who allege the company's president is operating "a scam under Florida law" and practising medicine without a licence.
Brian Clement runs the Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach where the families of two young First Nations girls from Ontario recently spent tens of thousands of dollars on treatments for their daughters' leukemia.
He and his wife, Anna Maria, a co-director of the institute, are named in at least three separate lawsuits filed recently in Palm Beach County.
Two are by ex-employees who claim HHI violated Florida's whistleblower act when it fired them, and another is by a physician alleging breach of contract after he documented concerns that what he was being asked to do at HHI could be illegal.
The allegations in the lawsuits predate the times the two First Nations girls were at the facility.
Makayla Sault was there in July, and has since suffered a relapse.
The other girl, who cannot be named because of a court-ordered publication ban, stopped chemotherapy treatment at Hamilton's McMaster Children's Hospital, where she was given a 90-95 per cent chance of survival, to go to the Florida spa in September.
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At Hippocrates, her mother told CBC News, her daughter received treatments including cold laser therapy, IV supplements, massages and raw food consisting largely of sprouts and wheatgrass.
Popular with Canadians
Both First Nations girls made headlines recently for halting chemotherapy in favour of traditional indigenous medicine.
But their parents also opted for some therapies championed by Clement, who twice gave talks in their Six Nations community near Caldeonia, Ontario. He's listed online as having made 17 other appearances in Canadian towns and cities this year alone.
Canadians represent a significant part of HHI's business, with sources telling CBC that more than a third of the health spa's customers at any given time could come from north of the border.
Anna Maria Clement is listed as a director of HHI's Canadian operations, which registered as a not-for-profit business in March.
CBC News has spoken with several HHI employees, past and present, who have been either troubled by what they claim is the increasing emphasis on selling treatments to vulnerable cancer patients, or by medical orders given by the Clements.
Steven Pugh worked at HHI for over a year as a nurse. He was concerned the Clements were giving false hope to patients.
"They would use the word cure. 'We're going to cure your illness.'"
Neither of the Clements is a licensed medical doctor, though both refer to themselves as doctors with clients as well as on the HHI website.
Brian Clement says he is a doctor of nutrition, but there is some question about his credentials and Florida authorities say he is not licensed as a doctor of naturopathy.
Pugh says that the Clements routinely interpreted laboratory blood tests, ordered IVs and prescribed supplements.
They also placed restrictions on when staff could call an ambulance to take patients for emergency medical care at local hospitals, according to Pugh and other former staff.
Pugh told CBC News that lives could have been placed at risk because the Clements prescribed treatments to patients.
"Not only prescribe but actually cancel the physician's orders ... and advise them to take something totally different, or even a different amount of the drug that the physician prescribed."
Pugh said he refused the Clements' orders to ask permission before calling paramedics if he saw a patient in distress.
"I'm not going to let you die if I think you need to go to the emergency room. We're not a life-saving facility." he said.
Pugh says he brought his concerns to Florida's Department of Health and the Board of Nursing last November, and claims he was fired days later, along with other medical staff who disagreed with the Clements' orders to perform duties outside their scope of practice.
The Department of Health said it "can neither confirm nor deny" any investigation into the Clements or HHI.
Court documents allege staff were fired because they "refused to participate in a scam under Florida law by prescribing supplements, etc. by unlicensed persons."
The legal complaint of the physician who worked at HHI alleges "professional and ethical transgressions in regard to the medical treatment of patients at the facility."
His civil suit against the facility also notes that he informed the Clements of "...several alleged violations, including but not limited to, unlicensed practice of medicine by non-licensed professionals."
None of the allegations against Hippocrates Health Institute has been proven in court, and in court documents responding to the employees' lawsuits HHI denies "each and every allegation."
Clement denies allegations
Brian Clement turned down requests from CBC News for a formal interview, and refused to answer questions raised in a previous CBC News report about his degrees.
CBC attempted to get Clement's response to these and other allegations at the Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach recently.
Clement called the allegations "ridiculous," and accused CBC of being part of a "system of deception."
In a brief exchange in the parking lot of the institute, he denied obstructing staff from calling ambulances.
He also maintained that he doesn't treat anyone at HHI, which is licensed by Florida's department of health as a massage establishment, but teaches people to heal themselves.
The mother of one of the First Nations girls battling leukemia told CBC News earlier that Clement assured her that her daughter's illness is "not a difficult thing to deal with."
"I didn't say that," Clement insisted, adding "How about the thousands and thousands of people who've come here for 60 years and gotten better?
"When we educate them they take care of themselves," he said before shouting, "You're a liar. Get off the property."
When CBC's Connie Walker asked for names of people he taught to reverse cancer, Clement put his hand on her face and said, "Get in the car! You can get on the internet. That's where you get most of your information."
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