The Beverly Hills Courier carried a three-part series of articles on gene therapy pioneer W. French Anderson earlier this winter. All three parts are published together below, as further documentation of this man’s ordeal.
By Laura Coleman
Part One – December 26, 2014
On New Year’s Eve, W. French Anderson, the “Father of Gene Therapy,” will turn 78 at the California Institution for Men, a state prison in Chino.
His wife of 53 years, Kathy, visits him each Saturday and Sunday, the only days she is allowed, so she won’t be there to see him for his birthday this year on Wednesday. For the past four years, he has slept in a dormitory with 100 other men over 65, in what is likely his final incarceration residence following his July 2006 conviction for allegedly molesting the young daughter of a former colleague – a charge he still vigorously denies.
Indeed, if Anderson were to plead guilty to the crime he has been convicted of, legal expert Dan Fisk said that Anderson would already be free.
“It speaks to his character,” Fisk said.
In fact, Anderson has amassed hundreds of prominent supporters, including Pulitzer Prize winners, Nobel laureates, scientists, professors, attorneys and longtime friends, who steadfastly believe that he is innocent of the crime he is accused of committing. A 2003 biography W. French Anderson: Father of Gene Therapy by Bob Burke and Barry Epperson, is full of stories attesting to Anderson’s fastidious nature where truth and a commitment to ethical behavior are paramount – a character trait that was cited by several people with whom The Courier conducted interviews.
Anderson contends that his habeas corpus attorney Doug Otto has uncovered evidence that documents the falseness of every piece of damaging evidence used against him during the jury trial. However, since submitting his first habeas appeal in May 2011, he has been unsuccessful in his attempts to be heard and has now exhausted every possibility at the state level. Earlier this month, Anderson filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in U.S. District Court – marking the first time Anderson’s effort to receive a hearing to be exonerated will reach the federal level. Anderson’s criminal saga began on July 30, 2004, when he was arrested by the L.A. Sheriff’s Department while driving to work. At the time the famed geneticist was a professor at the University of Southern California School of Medicine and Director of the school’s Gene Therapy Laboratories. He’d acquired international prominence for becoming the first doctor to perform a gene-therapy procedure and in 1990, cured a genetic disease in the immune system in 4- year-old Ashanti DeSilva, marking the first successful in- stance of human gene therapy.
Today DeSilva is alive, well and happily married.
Following his conviction, Anderson concluded that his second-in-command at his USC lab, Yi Zhao, the mother of the then under-aged girl, Yusi He, that he was convicted of molesting, engineered the allegations in order to take control of the lab. As The Courier will show in a subsequent article, Zhao did come to profit from Anderson’s arrest.
With the full support of Zhao, Anderson had originally started mentoring He in Karate and English shortly after meeting her, and the two spent time together on a weekly basis, often training in Anderson’s San Marino backyard. (Since the trial, the Andersons sold their San Marino home to pay legal bills in excess of $6 million. Mrs. Anderson, who retired at 65 from head of Pediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles just one week before her husband was arrested, now lives in Chino, close to her husband.)
The arrest came 30 days after Anderson had met with He outside the South Pasadena Library. At the time, He was wearing a wire-tap and the recording from their meeting was among the most damning evidence presented against Anderson during the trial. Following the meeting, Anderson said he went to the San Marino Police Department and provided a statement, concerned because He had accused him of molesting her.
Anderson said he was unaware that the conversation had been recorded but when he first heard it, he realized immediately that it had been altered to make him appear guilty. Neither his protestations nor documentation of his having gone to the police after the sting meeting were allowed to be presented as evidence in the trial.
In 2008, Pablo Valencia, a signal processing expert who first met Anderson in 1994, confirmed that the recordings had in fact been altered using forensic software to analyze the digital audio recordings.
“My feeling is that on this situation….French has been the victim of unethical behavior by the police,” Valencia said. “It appears that the recording went from a digital to an analog back to a digital. In an analog, you can edit it very easily, or at least edit it with the tools the police had at the time.”
The recording that was presented to jurors in court has Anderson admitting to molesting He and apologizing to her for doing that. Anderson maintains that their dialogue was rearranged to make him appear guilty – an assertion that Valencia said his analysis corroborates.
In addition to the recording, He’s testimony details a five-year period where Anderson molested her from the time she was 10 years old.
Another, particularly troubling submission in the trial involves email correspondence between the two, which portrays Anderson as a man willing to do anything for He. Emails from Anderson to He contain veiled threats that he is contemplating suicide, desperate pleas to get her to come over to his home while his wife is away and emails that while they don’t affirm the molestation, correspond to draft emails alleging molestation that He said she sent to Anderson. Left out of the evidence are emails where Anderson writes that he never did anything.
Anderson asserts that his habeas team has compiled evidence to disprove the prosecution’s line of evidence by documenting that not only was the sting recording doctored, but also that He lied repeatedly under oath and was impeached 39 times during cross examination, including where she says that she doesn’t remember if the draft emails were actually sent, and that in fact, there is proof that the draft emails allegedly sent by He claiming sexual abuse were never sent.
“[Anderson] knows he’s innocent and he’s a strong man,” said Mrs. Anderson, who speaks three times daily by telephone with her husband and continues to work to prove his innocence.
In part two of the series, coming in January, The Courier will analyze the case against Anderson and investigate possible exculpatory evidence.
Part Two – January 23, 2015
William French Anderson is not your typical man. To begin with, the Harvard-educated “Father of Gene Therapy” clocks a 178 IQ – 16 points above Albert Einstein. It is because of Anderson’s pioneering biomedical work that a Brave New World of designer babies is on the horizon, patients with hitherto incurable diseases can heal, and cancer may one day no longer prove a death sentence.
But history is slowly writing him out of the record, and posterity may well never learn the name of the first doctor to perform a gene-therapy procedure.
Today, Anderson, 78, resides at the California Institution for Men, a state prison in Chino where he is eight years into a 14-year sentence for allegedly molesting a young girl from the time she was 10 to 14. Anderson has repeatedly affirmed his innocence to The Courier and maintains that he never once touched the young girl inappropriately.
“When people want to believe something and they’re convinced it’s true and there are moral issues involved, people are willing to invent evidence,” said Pulitzer prize winning author Jared Diamond, who has known Anderson since the two were freshmen at Harvard.
Diamond is among hundreds of prominent individuals including Nobel laureates, scientists, professors and longtime friends who maintain that Anderson is innocent.
Last month, Anderson filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus in U.S. District Court – marking his first federal attempt to receive a hearing that he believes will exonerate him. He contends that his habeas corpus attorney Doug Otto has uncovered evidence that documents the falseness of every piece of damaging evidence used against him during the jury trial to convict him, including documentation that the L.A. Sheriff’s Department falsified evidence. After his July 2006 conviction in L.A. County Superior Court, Anderson concluded that his second-in-command at his USC Gene Therapy Laboratories, Dr. Yi Zhao, engineered the molestation allegations in order to take control of the lab. Dr. Zhao is the mother of the then under-aged girl, Yusi He, that Anderson was convicted of molesting.
Did the jury make a mistake? Anderson is convinced of it.
Indeed, he contends that the reason his alleged victim never filed a civil suit after his criminal conviction was because the attorneys who had represented the family realized it was “a hoax.”
“They could easily have won a lawsuit,” Anderson said. “We had no defense. What defense would we have? I had been convicted.”
By comparison, a $34 million civil verdict against O.J. Simpson finding him responsible for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman followed his notorious acquittal for their murder. Indeed, it was that very case that shone a public light on the fact that police are not immune from planting evidence in cases where they suspect guilt.
“Perhaps a person in the Sheriff’s Department was convinced French was guilty,” Diamond surmised, adding that even in the scientific community it is not unknown for researchers to falsify data.
In 2011, Tracer Technology, Inc. President Curtis Crow, a technology expert who has worked with agencies including the CIA, FBI and the DEA, concluded that the an audio recording of a conversation that took place between Anderson and Miss He on July 1, 2004 appeared to have been doctored.
The so-called “sting” operation where the L.A. Sheriff’s Department wired Miss He with a concealed transmitter before she met Anderson at the South Pasadena Library is considered to be the most damning piece of evidence against Anderson. The recording has Anderson directly apologizing to Miss He after she asks him why he sexually molested her. Anderson contends he responded that it never happened; the only time he apologized, he said, was to say he was sorry for pushing her so hard academically.
Crow said he found four anomalies indicative of editing when he analyzed the recording using the Diamond Cut Forensic8 software program. Crow’s declaration echoes the conclusion made by signal processing expert Pablo Valencia in 2008 when he used forensic software to analyze the recording and concluded that the Sheriff’s Department had doctored the recording.
“I believe sincerely that the recording was taken to the police station, analyzed, edited and then entered into their computer with a false time and date,” he said. “My feeling is that on this situation….French has been the victim of unethical behavior by the police.”
To add insult to injury, Anderson contends that his trial attorney Barry Tarlow, to whom he said he paid $2.3 million, refused to investigate his client’s assertion that the recording had been edited to clearly reflect guilt.
“Tarlow would absolutely not allow it and said that he would quit the case if I said there were any alterations,” Anderson recalled. “His argument was police recordings couldn’t be modified. For me to say it was modified would be taken by the jury as I if I was lying.”
Instead, the jury only heard a prominent, respected scientist apologize to a young girl for molesting her.
“We will have a major lawsuit against Barry Tarlow,” Anderson vowed.
In addition, Anderson said he plans to file lawsuits against everybody who initially contributed to his conviction, including the L.A. County District Attorney’s office, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, and the San Marino Police. He also said he plans to file suit against Dr. Zhao.
If Anderson is exonerated, he said he hopes to return to USC as a professor emeritus.
“I want USC to bring me back with open arms … as soon as I’m exonerated,” he said.
The University promptly cut ties with Anderson when he was arrested, issuing a statement that it had suspended Anderson and was initiating dismissal proceedings to remove his tenure and faculty position.
“Dr. Anderson is not allowed to come on campus; contact USC faculty, students, or staff; or conduct any USC business whatsoever,” USC wrote in its statement.
Anderson originally joined the USC faculty in 1992, after spending 27 years as a researcher at the National Institutes of Health where he was the molecular hematology branch chief. There, he acquired international prominence for becoming the first doctor to perform a gene-therapy procedure when in 1990 he cured a genetic disease in the immune system in 4-year-old Ashanti DeSilva, who is today alive and well.
As director of the USC Gene Therapy Laboratories, Anderson expanded his gene therapy research. Using an annual $4 million Novartis grant, in addition to an NIH grant, the lab focused on doing targeted gene therapy to be able to build into the vector.
However, when a pilot gene therapy trial in another state resulted in the death of a patient in 1999, companies got spooked and pulled back gene therapy funding, including Novartis.
Subsequently, Anderson said his friend and colleague, Robert Monks, stepped up and said he would provide research funding, with the caveat that he wanted his money to be used to fund molecular research, including radiation damage. Thus, Farmal LLC was conceived to sponsor the research project, with Monks’ group subsequently investing $12 million into Anderson’s program over the years.
On Mar. 13, 2003, still hurting from the dot.com bust, Monks pulled his funds when Dr. Zhao told the board that the main product they had been working on – an anti-radiation drug called IL-12 – did not work. It wasn’t until later that Anderson learned that Dr. Zhao had falsified the results of a test involving mice, and that the drug did in fact show tremendous promise.
Days after Monks pulled his funding, Dr. Zhao became one of the co-founders of Neumedicines Inc., a biotech company established to continue work on IL-12, which she later left.
On July, 3, 2003, Dr. Zhao filed a provisional patent for IL- 12, listing her, Anderson and Tingchao Chen, a graduate student, as inventors. She filed the actual patent on July 6, 2004, just five days after the L.A. Sheriff’s Department had wired her daughter for a sting meeting with Anderson.
Anderson contends that the meeting was delayed from June 30 until July 1 because Dr. Zhao needed key patent definitions from him before she filed the patent – an allegation that a June 30 email exchange that The Courier reviewed supports. That email exchange came just a few days after Anderson said Dr. Zhao helped him draft a letter to the dean appointing her deputy director and suggesting a 30 percent salary increase, which he sent on June 26.
Noted information technology consultant Dan Haste said he has since uncovered that not only did Dr. Zhao file a patent in China within days after she falsified the results of one test, but in 2010 a Chinese journal listed her as the owner Qingdao Kanglital Pharmasutical Company Limited, which had successfully tested IL-12 on monkeys.
“It has enormous military implications [which] I wasn’t thinking about,” Anderson said. “I was only thinking about cancer.”
What IL-12 aims to do is to repair irradiated cells, tremendously helpful for cancer patients. One military application might include inoculating troops who use nuclear weapons in anticipation of a wind shift.
Around the time Dr. Zhao appears to have been shoring up her connections with the Chinese military, Anderson contends that she was orchestrating a strategic campaign against him using her daughter. Specifically, he said that emails he started receiving from Miss He in November 2003 were meant to entrap him.
In fact, several emails used as evidence against Anderson in the trial are ostensibly troubling.
One email sent by Anderson to Miss He on Nov. 25, 2003, which the prosecution claimed was a confession, suggests that Anderson might commit suicide if false accusations of sexual abuse became public. Another set of emails sent by Anderson to Miss He read like pleas from a desperate lover as he begs her to come over to his San Marino home, assuring her that his wife is not there.
Anderson steadfastly maintains that there was never any element of his relationship with Miss He that he considered inappropriate.
“The relationship between Yusi and me was always good,” he said. “This kind of language sounds awful to adults, but it was the way we communicated.”
Anderson’s wife of 53 years, Kathy, who retired at 65 as Chief of Surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles just one week before her husband was arrested, described Miss He as a strange, sullen girl who would immediately retreat in her presence.
Anderson, who has mentored dozens of students, originally took on Miss He as a mentee at the request of Dr. Zhao. Anderson worked closely with her academically, as well as coaching her in karate to become a national champion. He often sparred with her as part of training and he increasingly became a fixture in her life, regularly picking the young girl up from school and driving her to soccer practice.
Following The Courier’s publication of “Not Yet Home For Christmas: Anderson Asserts Innocence” (Part Two of this series) on Dec. 26, 2014, several readers sent emails. One former soccer parent whose child was on the team with Miss He, described as her a “detached, morose girl who kept to herself much more than was common for goal- keepers … All I can say is that the obvious relationship between French and Yusi was on the bizarre side.” Likewise, those who had known Anderson professionally wrote to The Courier to express their surprise that he had ever been arrested because of his strong character.
Anderson maintains that if a litany of exculpatory evidence been allowed into the trial, the jurors would have made a very different decision. In addition to the doctored sting recording, false allegations, emails that he allege were edited and an attorney who made egregious decisions, Anderson hopes a hearing will allow him to present other exculpatory avenues. This includes: Trial Judge Michael E. Pastor refusing to allow as evidence the results of a plethysmography test, which is used around the country to gauge pedophiliac tendencies; a investigation report that falsely documents him owning a $21.8 million building, which the D.A. used to justify his headline-grabbing $6 million bail; a letter to the San Marino police he wrote just after his “sting” meeting with Miss He; and the limitations placed on his defense with respect to allowing former mentees the opportunity to testify.
“I want three things: my freedom, my reputation, and the return of my life savings,” he said.
Whether or not Dr. Zhao preyed on any latent tendencies Anderson may have harbored and wielded her daughter like a weapon to foster an inappropriate relationship that needed only an allegation by a young girl to put him in jail, the fact remains that for the past decade, the world has been deprived of one of the most brilliant scientific minds. And soon, he may get his chance in court once again armed with an arsenal to prove his innocence.
Next week, The Courier will examine what Anderson’s future may hold and the implications of the trial and his conviction.
Part Three – January 30, 2015
Gene therapy pioneer W. French Anderson will one day be free from the bonds of incarceration. Yes, he is elderly, and perhaps the Harvard-educated 78-year old man with an IQ of 178 will die in prison because the justice system failed him, but the fact remains that for the past decade the Chinese government has pioneered ahead of the U.S. in creating an anti-irradiation drug using the biomedical data that Anderson developed as head of the Gene Therapy Laboratories at the University of Southern California.
On Tuesday, Anderson’s wife of 53 years, Kathy, who retired at 65 as chief of Surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles just one week before her husband was arrested in 2004 for allegedly molesting a young girl from the time she was 10 to 14, sent a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation stating that she had evidence that Dr. Yi Zhao, Anderson’s second-in-command at USC and the mother of his alleged victim, committed espionage for the Chinese military.
The Chinese scientist, whom Anderson hired shortly after he joined the USC faculty in 1992, is listed together with Anderson and Dr. Tingchao Chen, as the owner of the U.S. patent detailing a procedure to treat lethal irradiation exposure after exposure.
“It has enormous military implications that I wasn’t thinking about,” Anderson told The Courier via telephone from his current home at the California Institute for Men, the Chino state prison where he is eight years into a 14-year sentence.
In pursuit of a way to cure cancer, he stumbled on a way to manipulate Interleukin 12 (IL-12) to allow cells to heal from radiation poisoning. For him it was a way to cure cancer by allowing cells to undergo enough radiation treatment to kill the cancer and heal.
For others, including the Chinese government, it was a way to heal a population that had just been targeted by a dirty bomb or a nuclear accident.
Currently, Pasadena-based Neumedicines Inc., the exclusive licensee of the patent application for the treatment of radiation injury, is in the final development stages for production of HemaMax using funds from a U.S. government contract through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
The biomedical company, which was co-founded by Drs. Zhao and Chen together with Dr. Lena Basile, who wrote the original IL-12 technology patent application at Anderson’s lab, was formed in 2003 to continue Anderson’s pioneering research on that unique application of the IL-12 molecule.
In fact, Neumedicines was set up just days after Farmal LLC pulled its funding from Anderson’s USC lab as a result of a false presentation made by Dr. Zhao showing that the drug did not work to cure lethally irradiated mice. Five days later, Anderson said, Dr. Zhao announced that the mice had actually survived and the drug continued to show tremendous promise.
Neumedicines Inc. Chief Analytics Officer Timothy Gallaher said he immediately suspected that Dr. Zhao was behind Anderson’s arrest in 2004. “I just said, ‘What did she do now?’” he recalled. “Just every single one who knew him said they didn’t believe it. I always thought Yi could have some involvement.”
Dr. Zhao eventually left Neumedicines, retrieving her founding stake and distancing herself from the company.
“Anything where it seemed that there was something that we could move forward, she was against it,” Gallaher recalled.
Information technology consultant Dan Haste subsequently discovered that not only did Dr. Zhao file a patent in China where she is listed as the sole author for the IL-12 procedure, but she is listed in a Chinese journal as the owner of Qingdao Kanglital Pharmasutical Company Limited, which in 2010 reported that the company had successfully tested the IL-12 drug on monkeys. “They’re probably going to zoom ahead of this country,” Anderson said, characterizing the little biomedical company versus the Chinese military as a David and Goliath struggle. “That would never have happened if I hadn’t been in prison.”
Gallaher predicted that once Neumedicines sells HemaMax to a pharmaceutical company that can take the drug through human trials into production, the U.S. government could stock-pile the drug or people could purchase it at pharmacies.
A 2002 email from USC Deputy Director Nolan Gomm to Carol Mauch, currently USC’s general counsel/secretary, speculated that the value of the product could be $9 billion. Although USC holds the patent, Anderson along with Drs. Zhao and Chen, are entitled to potentially valuable royalties once Neumedicines sells the product through their agreement with USC.
Anderson, who is the first doctor to perform a gene-therapy, procedure now holds 27 patents, including the gene therapy patent which he developed while working at the National Institute of Health. He said that the NIH made the decision to make the gene therapy patent easily available to everyone and as such he did not derive royalties.
Although Anderson could conceivably see some great wealth, he said in terms of financial renumeration, he only hopes that he can restore his life savings, which was depleted in the course of his trial and appeals.
Anderson is now waiting to see what happens with his first federal attempt to get a hearing that he believes will exonerate him. Last month he filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus in U.S. District Court, acting as his own attorney.
His former habeas attorney Doug Otto contends there is evidence that documents the falseness of every piece of damaging evidence used to convict him. That evidence includes proof that the L.A. Sheriff’s Department falsified evidence by editing a “sting” recording to falsely reflect guilt. Renowned technology experts Curtis Crow, Pablo Valencia and Craig Schick have all stated that the recording was altered.
Anderson, who worked with law enforcement for 40 years teaching self-defense classes (he’s a fifth-degree karate black belt), said it took him a while to believe that the Sheriff’s Department would have actively participated in doctoring evidence.
“French is optimistic and thinks the best of all people,” said Pulitzer Prize winning author Jared Diamond, who has been friends with Anderson since the two met as Harvard freshmen. “He’s not suspicious; maybe too naive and gullible.” Anderson, who has repeatedly asserted his innocence to The Courier, said he believes that he was actively set up by Dr. Zhao who used her own daughter in an effort to entrap him, which first began with emails in November 2003.
Anderson, who mentored Dr. Zhao’s daughter to become a national karate champion in addition to academically, said he never considered their relationship inappropriate and he never once touched her inappropriately.
Once free from prison, either because he is exonerated or because he serves the required 85-percent of his sentence, Anderson said he is interested in pursuing two major endeavors: helping reform the criminal justice system by working with the Northern California Innocence Project and continuing to assist in scientific breakthroughs that are changing the world.
“I think about science, of what can be done, and what is beneficial,” he said. “My approach has always been science.”