Credentials of man in aloe case doubted; Hoffman being tried on fraud charges


Federal prosecutors questioned the credentials of Baltimore businessman Allen J. Hoffman yesterday, saying the man who marketed aloe vera as a treatment for everything from cancer to AIDS never earned a grade higher than a C in college science classes and his honorary doctorate degree was a fake.

Hoffman, on trial in U.S. District Court on fraud charges related to his aloe business, has testified that he paid $500 to receive a doctor of philosophy degree from the University of Heidelberg. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Virginia B. Evans noted the school's registrar has testified that Hoffman never received a degree and that the university doesn't print diplomas in English like the certificate Hoffman produced.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Hoffman, it's obviously a phony Ph.D.," Evans said. "Is your testimony that you are still a doctor?"

"A Ph.D.? Yes," said Hoffman, who was regularly called "Dr. Hoffman" by the hundreds of sick and dying people who sought his treatment. "I have no reason to believe there is anything phony about it."

The exchanges between Evans and Hoffman at times grew so testy that U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson warned prosecutors that they were going too far. Nickerson denied Evans' request for several hours today to finish questioning Hoffman.

"I'll give you an hour, though I'm not sure why I'm being that liberal about it," Nickerson said after the jury had left the courtroom and after he had cautioned Evans that her "wandering soliloquy is not cross-examination."

Evans raised other questions. Although Hoffman's attorney produced a transcript Monday showing that Hoffman earned an associate's degree from Baltimore City Community College, Evans said records obtained from the school under a grand jury subpoena in 1998 showed that he had not received a degree.

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