By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
"We only do hormone therapy," a woman at the clinic tells a reporter and directs calls to a "counselor" who can do blood tests. Stephanos did not respond to a message left with his assistant.
Stephanos isn't the only criminal tied to a Florida anti-aging facility. In 2001, Javier Fernando Murcia founded a Hollywood clinic called Modern Therapy. Six years earlier, the Colombian-born businessman had been caught at 1:30 a.m. in the parking lot of a Fort Lauderdale business that had been repeatedly robbed; an officer found a flashlight, a crowbar, and a hammer in Murcia's car. He was arrested and charged with felony prowling and possession of burglary tools (adjudication on both charges was later withheld by a judge). In 1997, he and an accomplice were arrested for trying to steal nitrous oxide from Columbia Medical Center (those charges were dropped.) In 2000, he was sentenced to a year in jail for a series of DUIs and was even arrested while in custody at a work-release house for stealing juice from a fridge.
Six years after Murcia opened Modern Therapy, Sports Illustrated reported the clinic had sold performance-enhancing drugs to Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons. Modern Therapy closed in 2011 but reopened last year registered to Maria Murcia. State business records show it's currently based in a Hollywood home owned by "Fernando Murcia." Reached by phone, Maria Murcia confirmed the business had once been owned by Javier but declined to put a reporter in touch with him. Asked about his relationship to the current clinic, she said, "That's private information" and hung up.
Others nabbed in Operation Which Doctor were allowed to keep their Florida licenses despite felony pleas in New York. Take Signature Pharmacy's owners, Naomi and Robert "Stan" Loomis. This past February, their business pleaded guilty to a felony count of criminal sale of a controlled substance and agreed to pay $100,000 in fines; adjudication was withheld on the couple's own felony charges.
Florida allowed the Loomises to keep practicing, and Signature Pharmacy is again registered as an active business in Winter Park. Naomi Loomis is now a pharmacist for Olympia Pharmacy, a compounding facility based in Orlando with a website that advertises "hormone consultations" and sells HCG and "testosterone therapy." Stan Loomis did not respond to multiple messages left at Olympia. In 2008, the couple sued David Soares, Albany's district attorney, alleging he violated their civil rights with his mass prosecution; they dropped that case in February.
Palm Beach Rejuvenation's Dr. Robert Carlson is also back in business. The Sarasota-based heart surgeon who signed off on prescriptions for $5,000 per week was charged with seven felonies. He pleaded guilty to one count of insurance fraud and agreed to pay a $300,000 fine. He later appealed that plea deal, and his case remains open in New York.
Florida's Board of Medicine fined Carlson $10,000 and ordered him to take a rules course and perform 50 hours of community service but allowed him to keep his license. He recently opened a new clinic, the Ändlös Institute, which offers hormone replacement therapy and HCG weight loss. He did not respond to an email or a message at his office.
Other clinics are run by physicians with questionable records. Take Broward County's Royal Men's Medical Center, which offers testosterone and hormone therapy. The head of the Deerfield Beach business, Dr. Dagoberto Rodriguez, pleaded guilty to battery in Hillsborough County back in 1986. When he applied for his medical license in 1990, he lied about the case, answering "no" to a question about whether he'd ever pleaded guilty to a crime. He did the same in 1999 when renewing his license. Two years later, the DOH charged him with falsifying his application, eventually only fining him $1,000 and requiring him to take an education course. (Monica Rodriguez, an attorney representing the doctor, says that the Hillsborough County charge was related to a fight that happened at a college rugby game and that the problems with his license applications were a misunderstanding. "This is not, in the scheme of things, a big deal," she says.)
In Florida, those caught selling anti-aging drugs without proper documentation rarely face charges. Take the case of Pharmacy RX Solutions, a Tampa facility with a website that notes it specializes in "hormone replacement therapy" and custom mixes of testosterone and HCG.
In June, a DOH inspector found the facility was open with no licensed pharmacist on hand, a violation of state rules. Then he discovered shipments without proper paperwork. Drugs were being compounded without sterilization and testing for dangerous impurities. The department issued an emergency order last month shuttering the business, but the order was lifted after 20 days and pharmacist Adria Jackson has kept her license. A DOH complaint against the pharmacy is pending. (Ed Bayó, an attorney for the pharmacy, says DOH's emergency order was inappropriate. Jackson was attending to a "family emergency" the morning she wasn't in the pharmacy and the other issues were quickly dealt with, he says. "I'm reasonably confident the pending cases against the pharmacy will be dismissed," he says.)
With steady profits, rare enforcement, and a large population of retirees, it's no surprise that anti-aging has exploded here. Across the state, clinics openly advertise on I-95 billboards and in newspapers.