Opinion

Commentary: How to spot a fake doctor in Florida

When your cosmetic surgeon injects Fix-A-Flat and Super Glue into your posterior.

When her own surgically enhanced butt seems to have been acquired from a 360-pound NFL offensive lineman.

When your doctor goes by the name of Duchess.

When she locates her surgical theater in a suburban townhouse.

To us highly trained professional journalists, these criteria suggest that perhaps Duchess might not be Dr. Duchess.

The arrest last week of Oneal Ron “Duchess” Morris, notable for her bizarre ballooning butt, on charges of practicing medicine without a license and with nearly killing a patient by pumping a toxic sludge into her buttocks, indicate that our community may be in sore need of doctor-hunting advice. Going back two decades into the Miami Herald’s archives, reading through scores of stories (South Florida has suffered a long-running epidemic of fake docs), I’ve discovered certain subtle warning signs.

Your doc might not be a doc, for example, if he sings, smokes and eschews surgical gloves while slicing you open. Broward County’s infamous “singing surgeon,” it turned out, had no authentic medical credentials. You might say he was unmasked in 1976, except he hadn’t bothered to don a surgical mask.

Also, one might worry if your physician shows signs of sexual deviancy. Two lines extracted from a Sun-Sentinel story in October provide useful information for anyone who finds a would-be cancer specialist knocking on the front door. “A Coconut Creek man accused of posing as a doctor and offering free door-to-door breast exams has reached a deal with prosecutors.” Which was followed, later in the story, by: “The first victim, 36 at the time, told detectives he started the exam by fondling her breasts, and she knew something was wrong when his hands wandered elsewhere.”

Remember those three worrisome elements: Door-to-door, breast exams, and “hands wandered elsewhere.”

In a 1997 case, doctors kept telephoning a Miami-Dade hospital to order special nurses for a particular patient. The Herald reported: “When the nurses took the assignment, the patient would fondle himself and ask for rectal examinations. That behavior made the nurses suspicious.” An investigation revealed the call from the doctors had actually been made by the patient. He wasn’t a real doctor.

In 1995, at Cypress Creek High School, we learned that defrocked priests with no medical credentials should not be allowed to administer physical exams to young boys going out for the football team.

The setting for medical consultations and procedures can also be a tipoff. For instance, a Miami patient in a 1998 case should have been suspicious when her doctor operated on a kitchen table covered with a beach towel. Beach towels are a definite warning sign.

Last year, a Miami woman told police she had first been solicited by her “doctor” in a Little Havana parking lot. Another bad sign. The doctor offered to make her buttocks "look perfect.” The injections entailed another combination of Super Glue and Fix-A-Flat aerosol tire repair. Let me reiterate. No matter how flabby the behind, no Fix-A-Flat injections.

Two fake dentists were busted in 2003 at the Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop, caught using the passenger seat of their parked car as a dentist chair. Key words to consider here, before your next dental appointment: Swap Shop and car seat.

About 400 patients a year who visited a self-proclaimed dentist at her Hialeah house back in 1997 seemed to have missed the little visual clues that something was amiss. Like no medical license, no radiation shielding for her X-ray machine, no system for disposing of infectious wastes, not even an occupational license. Another telltale sign: she sterilized her instruments in a toaster oven.

Investigators looking into a fraudulent Miami dentist in 2003 noticed something that probably should have also alerted her patients: “A pet squirrel urinating on the instrument table next to the dentist’s chair.”

Readers. This is important. Even if the squirrel’s house-trained, find another dentist.

Reinaldo Silvestre, whose unlicensed cosmetic surgery practice on Miami Beach in the 1990s left a number of disfigured patients and surprised a champion male bodybuilder who awoke from surgery to discover his chest was adorned with a new pair of female breasts, like to use a wood-handled kitchen spatula to pack in implants. Write that down. Kitchen utensils. Not good. And never trust your health to a doctor, like Silvestre, with the nickname: “Butcher of South Beach.”

Antonio Martinez of Hialeah was an actual supermarket butcher, perhaps giving him the anatomical knowledge needed for a smooth transition into the medical profession(circa 1989). A year later, Manuel Conrado Acosta, another Hialeah non-doctor was busted on similar charges. He had made been a mortician, looking to use his special skills on livelier bodies.

Background checks can help sort out frauds, although three South Florida clinics failed to notice that Martinez’ medical credentials were very clumsy forgeries and his DEA prescription license that had been altered with Wite-Out.

Other South Florida institutions have been fooled by fake docs. In a famous 1984 case in Palm Beach County, a fake psychiatrist named Gary Mitchell Robinson had been assigned mental patients at a public hospital and even wrote a psychiatric evaluation for a murder defendant.

After he was finally convicted of practicing without a license, Robinson said, "I felt I helped a lot of people, though I took the shortest route to do that.” That route did not take him to med school.

No one had questioned whether Terrance Alan Eddy had the law and medical degrees listed on his resume when he was hired as a state child abuse investigator back in 1990. Kids are one thing. Taxes are another. When he later applied for a job with the Florida Department of Revenue, state officials finally checked his credentials. There weren’t any.

Before he was busted in 2007, Marc Goulet ran sex clinics in Aventura, Pompano Beach, Fort Myers, Sarasota and Palm Beach County, practicing for ten years, and selling great gobs of his “passion cream” ointments supposed to cure sexual performance issues. He was South Florida’s celebrity sex doc, with his own radio show and a medical sex advice column in a local magazine. The fake doc was once quoted in a Miami Herald story as an expert on sexual dysfunction.

But next time, we’ll know the warning signs: passion cream, Fix-A-Flat, pet squirrels, Super Glue, beach towels, toaster ovens, cigarette smoke and door-to-door breast exams. Especially when the doctor’s hand starts to wander.

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