photoA California chiropractor has been charged with consumer fraud in a lawsuit organized by a group of district attorneys. The suit alleges that Benjamin Altadonna of Danville, Calif., sold the $115,000 DRX-9000 spinal-traction machine to other chiropractors around the state and encouraged them to solicit expensive treatments for their patients.

(Read more consumer complaints about doctors).

The lawsuit also alleges that Altadonna defrauded thousands of chiropractors into buying his expensive marketing products based on false promises of increased income.

Altadonna provided chiropractors with an advertising program that promoted the DRX-9000 to the general public. This advertising program included newspaper advertisements that ran throughout California touting the DRX-9000  as a breakthrough medical technology with a scientifically-proven, 86% success rate in the treatment of medical problems like disc herniation.  

The same advertisements claimed the DRX was an FDA approved and patented alternative to spinal surgery as well as being endorsed by NASA.  All of these claims were either false or not scientifically substantiated, according to Santa Cruz County District Attorney Bob Lee.

Consumers rely on healthcare professionals to explain their treatment options so the consumer can choose the appropriate treatment. It is both unethical and unlawful for healthcare professionals to use false and deceptive statements or unsubstantiated junk science to promote their services,”  Lee said. “Advertising that purposefully baits consumers who suffer from serious medical problems through the use of deceptive and unsubstantiated claims must be addressed by law enforcement.”

The DAs are asking the Alameda Superior Court to award restitution to patients who were deceived into expensive treatments that didn't work, as well as restitution to chiropractors who bought the expensive device. They are also seeking "significant" civil penalties for illegal business practices.

The suit was filed in Alameda County Superior Court by the district attorneys of Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, Napa, Orange, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Solano, and Sonoma counties.

Not just Altadonna

While Dr. Altadonna is on the hook in California, he is far from the only chiropractor hawking the DRX-9000. A simple Google search produces more than 60,000 results, many of them Web sites and advertisements placed by chiropractors around the country.

The company that manufactures the device, Axiom Worldwide, has had its own legal entanglements. In 2007, a rival company, North American Medical Corp. (NAM), won an injunction in U.S. District Court that barred Axion from representing that the DRX-9000 is FDA-approved or that Axiom has any affiliation with NASA.

This order helps protect the public from further deception. I feel sorry for all of those who purchased a DRX thinking that it was patented when it was not; not to mention for all of the patients who were treated on a DRX believing it was FDA approved, or designed by NASA, when it was not,” said Gidgette Rubin, a senior vice president of NAM in a press release.

A federal appeals court later vacated the injunction and returned the case to the lower court, noting however that, “The district court did not clearly err when it concluded that Axiom made literally false statements in its advertising.”

In 2009, a former independent sales representative for Axiom, Greg Westfall, sued Axiom under the federal False Claims Act.

The suit charged that Axiom “devised a sales scheme to promote the sale of the Axiom products by knowingly, falsely, and fraudulently using misleading representations to physicians which they knew would cause physicians to submit false and fraudulent claims for payment to Medicare and other federal healthcare programs for services rendered with Axiom’s devices.

But the Florida U.S. District Court hearing the case dismissed the charges.