Unlicensed Body Sculpting Business Agrees to Pay $121K

The Orange County and Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Offices have reached a civil settlement agreement with Sculptor Body Molding, Inc. and its owners Steven and Monica Ferguson on charges that they engaged in unlawful business practices and false and misleading advertising at their health clinics.

The filing of the civil complaint was the result of an investigation conducted by the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation after it was discovered that the defendants were advertising to perform various medical procedures. One of the procedures was called SculptorBody which the company described as a weight-loss “lipo-sculpting” program.

The business advertised that the SculptorBody treatment provided weight loss and body sculpting through the use of various medical devices and cosmetic machines including laser and ultrasound treatments. Customers were asked to pay thousands of dollars for the treatments and were told the program was approved by the Food and Drug Administration and “Members of [the] Medical Board.” Sculptor Body Molding, Inc. operated five clinics in Huntington Park, North Hollywood, Santa Ana, West Covina and Riverside. The company advertised heavily to the Spanish-speaking community.

The Division of Investigation’s Health Quality Investigation Unit, Operation Safe Medicine, conducted undercover appointments at Sculptor Body Molding and investigators were offered medical services including ultrasound weight loss treatments, oxygen injections, and “fat molding.”

These services were offered by staff referred to as “therapists” rather than by a licensed medical doctor or other licensed medical professional as required by law.  None of the weight loss treatments or health advice provided at the business were supervised by a licensed physician and neither of the Fergusons is a licensed health care professional. The civil complaint noted that the advertising and performance of these medical procedures constituted the unlicensed practice of medicine and false and misleading advertising.

As part of the settlement agreement reached on May 19, 2017, the defendants will pay $106,000 in civil penalties that will go into a fund that supports future consumer protection actions by the District Attorney’s Office.  They will also pay $15,000 in restitution to the Medical Board of California for the costs of the investigation conducted by the Division of Investigation.

The settlement includes an injunction which prevents the Fergusons from operating any business in violation of the California Medical Practice Act and from any advertising that includes false or misleading statements to consumers. They are also required to immediately sell or dispose of all ultrasound machines and other medical devices that can only legally be used by or at the direction of a licensed medical professional.


Southern California Physician Sentenced After Pleading Guilty to Drug Trafficking

Former Glendale doctor was charged federally for distributing medications illegally

A federal judge ordered that former physician Manasseh Nwaigwe, of Glendale, will serve one month of home detention and two years of federal probation after pleading guilty to one federal drug trafficking charge.

Nwaigwe, 73, was sentenced on June 1, 2017. As part of the plea agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office, Nwaigwe pleaded guilty to illegally distributing hydrocodone and had to forfeit more than $97,000 that was earned from issuing illegal prescriptions. Nwaigwe also agreed to surrender his medical license.

During an investigation conducted in May and June 2015, Nwaigwe wrote prescriptions for hydrocodone, clonazepam and promethazine with codeine to five U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration undercover investigators in exchange for cash. The prescriptions were written even though the undercover officers had no medical need for the drugs.

On March 8, 2016, the Medical Board of California filed an accusation against Nwaigwe that included allegations of sexual misconduct, prescribing without an appropriate prior exam and gross negligence.  The plea agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office resulted in the surrender of Nwaigwe’s medical license on June 1, 2016, which resolved that accusation. Criminal charges were never filed in the case of alleged sexual misconduct.

Investigators from the California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation, Health Quality Investigation Unit – Tustin Field Office assisted the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Torrance Police Department and Redondo Beach Police Department with the investigation of Nwaigwe.

A copy of the Medical Board of California documents can be read HERE.

To view the March 2016 Medical Board news release, click HERE.

The United States Attorney’s Office press release can be read HERE.


Investigation Uncovers Unlicensed Physicians Operating Medical Clinic

Man and woman treated patients at a Los Angeles urgent care facility.

Charges were filed in Los Angeles Superior Court last month against two unlicensed people accused of diagnosing and treating patients at an urgent care clinic in Los Angeles.

Betzabe Wintermute and Chendri (no first name) have each been charged with three felony counts of practicing medicine without a license following an undercover investigation. The investigation revealed the two had been treating patients and prescribing medications at WR Balboa Urgent Care, 937 South Alvarado St., #1D in Los Angeles, even though neither has any professional health care licenses.

Investigators from Operation Safe Medicine, in the Division of Investigation’s Health Quality Investigation Unit, worked with the Health Authority Law Enforcement Task Force (HALT), within the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services to conduct a thorough investigation. HALT Investigators conducted undercover investigations that found both Wintermute and Chendri were diagnosing and treating patients. Chendri also prescribed medications to the undercover operatives.  Investigators from Operation Safe Medicine then assisted HALT Investigators in serving a search warrant at the business.

The investigation also showed that Wintermute, who owned WR Balboa Urgent Care, would hire licensed physicians on a temporary basis in order to obtain their medical license numbers and DEA numbers.  She would allegedly use that information to bill insurance companies and prescribe medications to patients without the physicians’ knowledge.

Investigators found that neither Chendri or Wintermute has ever held a professional license in California.   Wintermute was issued a six-month Interim Permit by the Board of Registered Nursing, but it expired in 2007, and she never obtained a license.

Wintermute has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to appear in court on May 19, 2017.  An arrest warrant has been issued for Chendri, but he is believed to be out of the country.


Health Center Owner Convicted of Aiding the Unlicensed Practice of Medicine

Physician Michael Zadeh of Encino pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of aiding and abetting the unlicensed practice of medicine following his arrest in February. One of Zadeh’s employees, Siranush Mkrtchyan, also pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of practicing medicine without a license.

Recently, two more of Zadeh’s employees entered pleas with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Rebecca Merzlak and Lyndi Loomis each pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count of practicing medicine without a license. A fourth employee, Amanda Farrar, has pleaded not guilty to one felony count of practicing medicine without a license. Her next court date is scheduled for October 4, 2017.

Zadeh is the owner of Z Center for Cosmetic Health in Sherman Oaks. The center was investigated by Operation Safe Medicine, a specialized unit within the California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation Health Quality Investigation Unit after receipt of an anonymous complaint about the business.

Undercover investigators made appointments at the center and scheduled treatments that required examination by a doctor or nurse practitioner. One investigator was scheduled for laser hair removal without having been properly examined, while a second investigator was diagnosed with a skin condition and was prescribed a bleaching ointment without having received a proper examination.

Merzlak is a licensed esthetician and Farrar is a registered nurse. Mkrtchyan and Loomis were both unlicensed.

The Board of Registered Nursing, the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology and the Medical Board of California will take action, as appropriate, against Farrar, Merzlak and Zadeh, respectively.

 

 

 

 


Chiropractor Arrested for Unlicensed Practice of Medicine

Northern California woman used the designation of “D. PSc.” in her advertisements

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A Northern California chiropractor was arrested January 16, 2017, and charged with practicing medicine without a license.

Diem Thi Nguyen, of El Dorado Hills, is licensed by the State of California as a chiropractor and is not licensed as a medical doctor.  Nguyen advertised in a Sacramento newspaper that she could treat thyroid problems and diabetes and advertised neurological testing of patients.

Nguyen used the designation of “D. PSc.” in her advertisements.  “D.PSc.” is an acronym for Doctor of Pastoral Science, which the Pastoral Medical Association website describes as a “license.”  According to the Medical Board of California, Doctor of Pastoral Science is not recognized in California and does not authorize anyone to practice medicine or any of the healing arts in the state.

Nguyen was investigated by the Sacramento Field Office of the Health Quality Investigation Unit with the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation at the request of the Board of Chiropractic Examiners and the Medical Board of California. Investigators conducted an undercover operation at Nguyen’s clinic where she allegedly diagnosed and treated the undercover operative for an adrenal gland issue, insulin resistance and hormonal imbalances.

Nguyen has offices located in El Dorado and Sacramento counties. Her business is called New Life Integrity Wellness and is located on Golden Foothill Parkway, in El Dorado Hills, and on Laguna Spring Drive, in Elk Grove.

Nguyen’s next court appearance is scheduled for February 27, 2017 in Sacramento Superior Court.


Los Angeles Day Spa Closed Due to Unlicensed Practice of Medicine

The owner/managers of Zena Day Spa and three of their employees are facing felony charges in Los Angeles County Superior Court as the result of an investigation conducted by “Operation Safe Medicine,” a task force within the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation Health Quality Investigation Unit whose mission is to investigate unlicensed activity and unsafe practice of medicine.   The spa, which was located on Sepulveda Boulevard in Culver City, is now closed.  Print

Fouad Nouri, a physician, allegedly aided and abetted the unlicensed activity of Mikhaiel Ayad Mikhaiel, the spa’s owner.  After Mikhaiel’s death, his wife Reda Fakery Mikhaiel, aka Reda Mikhiael, a cosmetologist, managed the spa and allegedly allowed employees to perform cosmetic procedures, including Botox and intense pulsed light laser treatments, on patients who had not received an examination by a doctor or nurse practitioner.  The investigation was initiated after a patient complained of third degree burns and scarring to her face after receiving intense pulsed light laser treatments at the spa in 2013.

The investigation and undercover operations showed that registered nurses Darla Sheree O’Brien and Jhoanna Maria Gando Pereja, and esthetician Rula Abusnaineh, were illegally performing medical procedures.

Mikhaiel and Abusnaineh were each charged with one felony count of unlicensed practice of medicine.  Mikhaiel’s cosmetology license is currently on probation by the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology as the result of a prior investigation.  Mikhaiel and Abusnaineh will return to court on January 18.

O’Brien was charged with two felony counts of unlicensed practice of medicine.  She pleaded no contest to one count and is scheduled to be sentenced on January 5.  Nouri was charged with one felony count of aiding and abetting the unlicensed practice of medicine.  He pleaded no contest and is scheduled to be sentenced on January 10.  On November 8, 2016, the Medical Board of California obtained an order limiting Nouri’s practice of medicine and barring him from having ownership interest in any medical day spas or performing cosmetic procedures for the duration of the criminal proceeding.

Pereja has been charged with two felony counts of unlicensed practice of medicine and a warrant has been issued for her arrest.  She is believed to be out of the country.

The Accusation against Nouri can be read here:

The Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, Board of Registered Nursing and the Medical Board of California will pursue disciplinary action, as appropriate, against their respective licensees.


Physician and Nurses Face Felony Charges

Central Valley medical spa staff accused of unlawful practice of medicine.

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A Central Valley physician and three registered nurses have all been charged with felonies for the unlawful practice of medicine.

Physician Mark Nazarian, of Fresno; and registered nurses Jaclynne Burris, of Fresno; Crystal Bartolome, of Clovis; and Elsa Ortiz, of Fresno; were all charged with felonies by the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office following an investigation conducted by the Investigation and Enforcement Unit Central Valley Field Office of the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation.

Nazarian, who is the medical director at Mystique Medical Spa and Wellness Center on North Howard Street in Fresno, was charged with one felony count of aiding and abetting the unlawful practice of medicine after undercover operations showed that the registered nurses working there were administering Botox to patients who had not been given an appropriate prior examination by a doctor or nurse practitioner.

The registered nurses were also found to allegedly be illegally selling prescription-only medications including  Latisse and Retin-A.  Burris was charged with three felony counts of unlawful practice of medicine, Bartolome was charged with four felony counts of unlawful practice of medicine and Ortiz was charged with five felony counts of unlawful practice of medicine.  Mystique Medical Spa and Wellness Center is owned by chiropractor Samuel Stephen Krikorian Jr.

Nazarian, Burris, Bartolome and Ortiz will appear in Fresno County Superior Court on December 12, 2016.  The California Board of Registered Nursing and the Medical Board of California will pursue disciplinary action, as appropriate, against the licensees.


Ex-Physician Gets Prison Time for Illegal Painkiller Prescribing

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San Rafael man pleads guilty to illegally distributing oxycodone for cash.

Former physician Michael Roger Chiarottino, of San Rafael, was sentenced by a federal judge to three years in prison for prescribing painkillers in exchange for cash.

The July 19, 2016, sentence follows Chiarottino’s guilty plea to one federal charge of distribution of oxycodone outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose.

Chiarottino was initially charged with 15 counts of distribution of controlled substances including oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, hydromorphone and methadone.  As part of his plea, Chiarottino admitted that on six occasions between February 12, 2013, and March 6, 2014, he prescribed controlled substances in exchange for cash to undercover Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents posing as patients.

On each occasion, Chiarottino failed to conduct an appropriate medical examination or obtain a sufficient patient medical history from the undercover agent to support a prescription for the narcotics he prescribed.

Chiarottino was initially investigated by the Health Quality Investigation Unit (HQIU) Pleasant Hill and San Jose Field offices of the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation after concerns were raised about his prescribing practices between 2010 and 2012.

During the two-year investigation, HQIU investigators worked with the DEA, Livermore Police Department and Pleasanton Police Department to conduct undercover operations and serve search warrants on Chiarottino’s home and business.

The investigation resulted in an accusation filed by the Medical Board of California in 2014, which alleged that Chiarottino had engaged in unprofessional conduct including gross negligence, repeated negligent acts, incompetence, excessive prescribing and inadequate record-keeping during his care of five patients. Chiarottino surrendered his medical license on June 10, 2015.

A copy of the Medical Board of California documents can be read here.

The Drug Enforcement Agency’s news release can be read here.

The United States Attorney’s Office news release can be read here.



Investigators Seek More Victims After Physician Charged with Involuntary Manslaughter

Southern California doctor allegedly failed to address surgical complications which led to patient’s death.

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Physician Edwin Hyun-Kyu Choi, of Arcadia, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of a patient.  Investigators are asking any other victims or individuals with additional information to come forward.

The charge against Choi is the result of an investigation conducted by the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation following the death of a patient at Choi’s Celine Cosmetic Surgery Clinic, in Buena Park.

Investigators from the Division’s Health Quality Investigations Unit (HQIU) Tustin Field Office found that in September of 2012, Choi performed abdominal liposuction on a female patient, but allegedly failed to address complications that arose from the surgery which resulted in the patient’s death.

An unlicensed woman assisted Choi during the liposuction.  The unlicensed woman allegedly acted as the anesthetist during the procedure and also cared for the patient the following day.

The day after the surgery, the patient experienced pain, dizziness, and shortness of breath and she returned to Choi’s clinic.

Rather than referring the patient to an emergency room or calling for an ambulance, Choi allegedly kept the patient at the clinic for 19 hours.  During that time, lab work was completed which showed the patient had sepsis and acute renal failure.  An employee eventually drove the patient to a hospital where she died from septic shock.

Choi appeared in Orange County Superior Court on October 27, 2015, to face one felony count of involuntary manslaughter.  During the arraignment, the judge denied the Medical Board of California’s request for an order to restrict or suspend Choi’s ability to practice as a medical doctor during the duration of the criminal case.  Choi will be in court again on February 26, 2016.

Earlier this year, Choi was charged with two misdemeanor counts of aiding and abetting the unlicensed practice of medicine in Los Angeles County.  An investigation conducted by HQIU’s Operation Safe Medicine Unit found that Choi had allowed a registered nurse to offer Botox, laser hair removal and other medical procedures without his supervision at Eastern Beauty Medical Spa in San Gabriel.

That story can be read here.

In that case, Choi was ordered to complete community service as part of the court’s deferred entry of judgment program.

In October 2015, the Medical Board of California filed an Accusation against Choi charging him with gross negligence, repeated negligent acts, incompetence, aiding and abetting unlicensed activity and failing to maintain adequate and accurate records.  The Medical Board of California is seeking to obtain an Interim Suspension Order to restrict Choi’s license.

A copy of the Medical Board Accusation can be read here.

More possible victims in Choi’s case are being sought.  Complaints against Choi can be filed at http://www.mbc.ca.gov/Consumers/Complaints/.

Anyone with additional information about Choi can contact the Medical Board.

Consumers can file complaints against all Department of Consumer Affairs’ licensees at http://www.dca.ca.gov/consumer/complaints.shtml.

The Orange County District Attorney’s press release can be read here.