Convicted wife killer Jonathan Nyce is back in court. He is now accused of selling fake dog cancer drugs to pet owners, and faces a “maximum sentence” of 32 years in prison and a fine of $1.2 million, according to prosecutors. The former pharmaceutical executive lived in Hopewell in 2004 when he killed his wife, Michelle, and was released after serving five years of an eight-year sentence for passion provocation/manslaughter in a highly publicized case.
Nyce, 70, and now living in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, faces charges of wire fraud and the interstate shipment of misbranded animal drugs. The prosecutor, U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain, accuses Nyce of a “years-long scheme to defraud pet owners of money by falsely claiming to sell canine cancer-curing drugs.”
The criminal indictment alleges that Nyce created several companies beginning in 2012, including “Canine Care,” “ACGT,” and “CAGT,” which he claimed developed drugs intended to treat cancer in dogs. Nyce allegedly used websites to market “cancer-curing” medications, “Tumexal” and “Naturasone” to pet owners. Ad copy for the drugs made bold claims:“Tumexal is effective against a wide variety of cancers,” and, “[i]n fact, Tumexal will almost always restore a cancer-stricken dog’s appetite, spirit and energy!”
However, prosecutors say the drugs were nothing more than bulk ingredients from various sources that Nyce mixed together himself in a facility in Collegeville. The substances were allegedly worthless for curing cancer.
The feds also say that Nyce promoted his fraudulent drugs via e-mails and phone conversations with the owners of terminally ill dogs. He got them to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for the fake drugs, telling them that he could enroll the dogs in clinical trials in exchange for large fees.
Nyce’s mixtures were not approved by the FDA, but his marketing materials claimed that his companies were “funded in part by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”
“The defendant’s alleged conduct here is shameful,” McSwain said in a press release. “As any dog owner will tell you — myself included — pets quickly become part of the family. And when they become sick, caring owners look for hope, often doing everything they can to keep their beloved pets alive and well. The defendant is charged with taking advantage of that nurturing instinct in the worst way possible by defrauding pet owners and giving them false hope that they might be able to save their dying pet. That is both cruel and illegal, and now the defendant will face the consequences.”
The FDA investigated the case because it is against regulations to sell drugs that have not been approved by the FDA.
“American pet owners rely on the FDA to ensure their pets’ drugs are safe and effective,” said FDA special agent in charge Mark McCormack, of the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations’ Metro Washington Field Office. “We will continue to investigate and bring to justice those who ignore or attempt to circumvent the law.”
If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum possible sentence of 32 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,250,000.
The charges of fraud related to drugs further call into question Nyce’s previous record as a businessman. Nyce first appeared in the pages of U.S. 1 on March 17, 1999. An article by Monica J. Guendner profiled Nyce as the CEO of EpiGenesis Pharmaceuticals, a company based on Eastpark Boulevard in Cranbury that was researching cures for asthma.
In interviews, Nyce touted his company’s technology, called “antisense therapy,” that was like “flipping a genetic switch” to cure respiratory diseases. The company was founded in 1995 in North Carolina and had moved to Exit 8A in the fall of 1998. Nyce said he had invested his personal money in the company and raised more through private investors. It had recently received $6 million from private investors and a $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
Nyce told U.S. 1 that he had grown up in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, where his father was a machine designer. “He worked around the clock one night to design the machinery to knit the first pair of pantyhose,” Nyce said. “But because he had a new family, he was unable to capitalize on that discovery, whereas his partner was able to run with it. He told me that if I were ever in a similar position, to be sure I could capitalize on it.”
It would later turn out that this story was not true.
Nyce also said he had struggled with asthma his whole life, having once succumbed to a coughing fit while giving a paper at a professional meeting.
Nyce said earned an undergraduate degree and a doctorate at Temple and did postgraduate work at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. He became a professor in the department of molecular pharmacology and therapeutics at East Carolina University. His company boasted board members and advisors from major pharmaceutical companies and universities.
He told U.S. 1 that he had moved his company from New Jersey because North Carolina felt too small. With him were his wife, Michelle, whom he would later kill, and his three young children.
The company was back in the news again in 2001 for signing a $100 million distribution deal with a Japanese company for one of its drugs, which was still going through clinical trials.
The company aimed to use a form of treatment called antisense therapy. Today, other companies are using antisense therapies to develop treatments for cancer, muscular dystrophy, AIDS, and other conditions.
The last time EpiGenesis was in the news before the killing was 2003, when it was announced that the company, then based at Cedar Brook Corporate Center, had been bought out and reorganized by a group of venture capitalists, who removed the management team, including Nyce. Reporter Barbara Fox tried to call Nyce for comment but couldn’t reach him.
It was a difficult economic environment for pharmaceutical companies, and EpiGenesis hadn’t been able to make it. He couldn’t raise enough money to keep the company going despite having some success in clinical trials.
“At the moment when Nyce needed to raise some serious money, the web bubble had burst. EpiGenesis had only a small investor base, and new potential investors had empty pockets,” a U.S. 1 article later noted.
“It must have been a crushing blow. Nyce lost not only his new drug idea and his original platform technology, but also a job that would be very hard to replace. Nyce has a doctoral degree but is not a physician, and he had given up a tenured teaching position to make the entrepreneurial leap.”
The new owners of EpiGenesis downsized the company and halted work on cancer drugs and the technology platform Nyce had invented and focused work on a project unconnected with Nyce.
Nyce had lost his job, but Michelle was working part-time as a beauty consultant at Macy’s in Quakerbridge Mall. The couple had put up their home on Keithwood Court up for sale, asking $1.6 million.
From CEO to Killer
It was only a few months later, in January, 2004, that Nyce, then 54 was arrested, having confessed to police to beating his wife to death. Michelle had been found dead in her SUV in a creek near their home the morning of January 16.
Despite the confession, the case was not open-and-shut. Nyce retained the services of prominent defense attorney Robin Lord, who got him released on $1.7 million bail.
The trial began in June of 2005. Prosecutors laid out the case against Nyce. The marriage had been an unhappy one. Michelle, who was born in the Phillipines, was 20 years younger than her husband. On the day she was killed she had returned from a tryst in a motel with the family’s gardener. Nyce confronted her in the garage and killed her by bashing her head into the floor.
In Nyce’s telling, she attacked him with a knife, and he acted in self-defense. No knife was ever found. He tried to make the killing look like a car accident, driving Michelle’s body to the creek in the family SUV and leaving it there. Police found tracks in the snow leading from his car, which allegedly matched Nyce’s footprints.
Lord mounted a vigorous and at times theatrical defense (U.S. 1, July 20, 2005). At one point, she unpacked a suitcase belonging to Michelle, taking out G-string thongs, lingerie, and bras. Jurors stood to look into the case as detectives opened it, leading the judge to accuse her of turning the courtroom into a yard sale.
Lord’s defense was effective. She won a victory for Nyce when she got judge Bill Mathesius to give the option of convicting Nyce on a lesser charge of passion/provocation manslaughter. In the end, the jury convicted Nyce on this charge, which resulted in his unusually short jail term.
In a later interview with U.S. 1, Lord said she had bounced ideas for the defense off her children, at one point asking her 10-year-old son, “What can I say to convince the jury that this man didn’t intend to kill his wife?”
“Why would he want to kill his wife, Mommy?” Was his reply.
Lord said that this conversation helped her form her defense, which was that Nyce hadn’t in fact plotted to kill his wife, and that if he had done so, the brilliant chemist could have poisoned her instead.
The case was the subject of a book by British tabloid journalist John Glatt, who interviewed nearly 50 people (U.S., June 7, 2006). Glatt’s interviews uncovered deceptions on the part of Nyce. For instance, Nyce’s father, who ran a hosiery mill, had never invented a machine to make pantyhose. “I guess you could say I designed things, and I made special stockings for showgirls,” he told Glatt. “But concerning the pantyhose machine, the 80-year-old father says wistfully, “I doubt that I invented it.”
The book described Nyce as the oldest of four boys, tall, ungainly, and shy around girls. His interest in science led him to co-found an Explorer troop that focused on criminology. As a young man Nyce once boiled a raccoon carcass on a kitchen stove to extract the bones and study its skeleton.
His reported educational history turned out to be true: he had been the first in his family to attend college, working his way through Temple in eight years.
At one point he was married to an orthodox Jewish woman and the marriage lasted seven years.
Glatt discovered that Nyce had great ambitions for his career, seeking a place in medical history. In a freelance article he wrote for Philadelphia Magazine, Nyce wrote about how “solemn portraits of the University of Pennsylvania’s past medical greats line the wide, polished corridors and lavish staircases of the old medical school. Between classes a procession of students and faculty traverse the great stretches of hall, and small groups collect beneath one or other of the gilt edge frames to exchange notes.”
His colleagues at East Carolina University described him as a “gentle giant” and “something of an enigma.”
The book described Mechily “Michelle” Riviera as his “mail order bride” who corresponded with Nyce from her home in the Philippines but only met Nyce a week before the wedding. Glatt said that during their courtship, Nyce, then 40, had lied about his age to his 21-year-old bride.
In his business life, Nyce had a “charismatic and passionate mad scientist persona” and was a good spokesperson for the company, not above embellishing the truth when he felt it necessary, Glatt wrote. He looked “every inch the CEO” in expensive suits and a collection of designer ties. In 2000 the company had taken off, and the couple moved to an expensive home in Hopewell.
After the company fell apart and Nyce was driven out, he devoted himself to pursuits such as writing a children’s book and devising a perfume company for Michelle to start. Roz Clancy, the owner of a modeling agency, told Glatt that she had offered Michelle a modeling job, but that he had forbidden her to model out of jealousy.
Tabloids later revealed that Michelle was involved in a love triangle with landscaper Alexander Casteneda, who had been trying to extort $500,000 from Nyce for a sex tape of Michelle.
Glatt interviewed Nyce after the trial. “At no time did Nyce address the circumstances of Michelle’s death, his involvement in it, or show the least bit of remorse for what he had done,” he wrote.
The strange twists in Nyce’s story didn’t end once he went to prison.
In 2007, he filed for an appeal, saying that Judge Mathesius had “demeaned” his then-attorney Lord. By that time he was represented not by Lord but by Paul W. Bergin, who had previously defended a soldier accused of torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Nyce’s appeal was delayed when the Manhattan District Attorney’s office raided Bergin’s office, charging him with taking over a prostitution ring after the arrest of his client, a pimp. He ultimately pled guilty and served probation. Later he was given a life sentence for running a crime syndicate involved in cocaine trafficking, bribery, fraud, and the murder of a witness.
Nyce’s appeal was denied.
In 2008, he filed for patents for asthma drugs from South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton.
Nyce’s children, two boys and a girl ages 12, 10, and 5 at the time of the killing, went to live with Jonathan’s brother in Pennsylvania.
Nyce laid out his own version of events in his own book, called “Under Cover of Law” in which he portrays himself as an innocent man railroaded by the justice system.
Now Nyce, facing a new set of criminal charges, will have a new story to spin.