By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
Eventually he discovered that every Wednesday, unbeknown to the general public, a batch of tickets would be sold for a week of performances months down the line; brokers scooped up the tickets. On the sly, Frye undertook a seven-month campaign to purchase and stockpile the tickets, accumulating almost $1 million worth.
When the dates of the shows finally arrived, he placed ads in the Los Angeles Times that read "Are You Tired of Being Screwed by the Scalpers?" and seriously undercut the going resale price. "I became angry," he explains. "I became an advocate for Americans who wanted to see Phantom but didn't want to mortgage their house to get four tickets."
The Phantom has dropped the curtain in L.A., so Frye's out of the ticket business now, but he still maintains two toll-free phone numbers as mementos: 1-800-THE-PHANTOM and 1-800-THE-OPERA.
Despite the relaxed environment in the office -- Frye himself likes to wear shorts and odd leisure footwear at work -- the 22 employees stay busy on the phones and at keyboards, typing insurance claim forms and other paperwork. Worldwide represents health-care consumers, most of whom have received alternative treatments for cancer or other serious illnesses in Mexico or overseas. They hire Worldwide to shepherd reimbursement claims through their own insurance companies. "We're just as important as the doctors," Frye says with the same passion he displays when discussing his stadium proposal. "If you cannot afford the treatment, you cannot take treatment. And you die, period."
While many health-care professionals ridicule alternative treatments as quackery, thousands of Americans travel to Mexico every year to seek them. Some have tried conventional therapies with limited or no success; others believe in the alternatives or simply don't trust traditional medicine.
Frye is one of the believers. In 1981, his mother was diagnosed with colon cancer so advanced that she was given just a few weeks to live. The doctors the family consulted in its hometown of Windsor, Ontario, said there was nothing they could do. Then Frye saw a Geraldo interview with Stanislaw Burzynski, a Houston doctor who was developing an alternative cancer treatment. Carrying his mother's blood and urine samples, "I got on the next plane down," Frye says.
Burzynski met with Frye and expressed pessimism about his mother's chances, but agreed to provide treatment. Several family members set up camp in Houston for the next two months, and to obtain better access to the physician, Frye began volunteering for Burzynski. Though his mother died two months after her arrival, Frye returned to the clinic a week after the funeral as the doctor's public relations director. "The loss of my mother to me and my family was the most tragic experience in our collective lives," he says. "I became obsessed with helping other Mary Fryes who were dying of cancer."
A little more than a year later, Frye discovered the big downside of alternative medicine: the establishment doesn't like it. In 1983, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sued Burzynski for treating his patients with antineoplaston, a drug not approved by the agency. Named along with the doctor was Frye, who the agency charged was illegally shipping antineoplaston across state lines. "So the guy doesn't have FDA approval," Frye recalls as his initial reaction. "What's the FDA?"
Though the government was more interested in Burzynski, Frye accepted an offer of deferred adjudication. But the doctor beat the rap, and Frye believes that the government has been after the two of them ever since. "What the Justice Department wanted was to shut [Burzynski] down," he says. "What the Justice Department didn't get was what it wanted. They've harassed me ever since."
If this sounds a little paranoid, consider the next phase of Frye's career in the alternative medicine field. In the course of his four years with Burzynski, he became acquainted with a number of alternative practitioners and noted a common problem: the patients went through hell getting their insurance claims paid. Though many policies had clauses prohibiting reimbursement for unproven or experimental treatments, other care associated with the treatment did qualify. But the insurers routinely rejected such claims anyway, and the complexities of dealing with foreign clinics made collecting an almost impossible burden. "The insurance companies have made millions of dollars off the cancer patients who have gone to Mexico," Frye states. "Their game is to deny the claims."
So Frye began to navigate the paperwork maze on behalf of Burzynski's clients, and in 1985 he split off and formed his own company, North American Health Insurance Coordinators (NAHIC), to do nothing but process claims.
It wasn't long before the feds were back on his trail. A 1987 Los Angeles Times article on NAHIC reported that the Justice Department's Organized Crime Strike Force in Houston was investigating the company for various improprieties, including overbilling and concealing the experimental nature of the treatments.
On September 4, 1990, the FBI raided NAHIC's office and confiscated thousands of files, including almost all client records. Frye says that the agents expected to find a boiler-room operation, not the sumptuous digs of a legitimate business, and brought only four boxes to carry the files. "They had to get a bunch more boxes," he says.