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| Crime |

Florida Fraudsters Take Out Plastic Surgery Loans in the Names of the Dead

The total amount in plastic surgery loans confirmed or suspected as fraudulent exceeded a half-million dollars.EXPAND
The total amount in plastic surgery loans confirmed or suspected as fraudulent exceeded a half-million dollars.

A $7,500 cosmetic procedure at the Weston plastic surgery center Best U Now, supposedly booked by retiree Patrick Cluney, was set to go off without a hitch. The day of the scheduled surgery — January 24, 2019 — a surgical loan was lined up in Cluney's name, and the lender released thousands of dollars to fund his nip-and-tuck.

It all seemed pretty routine until the loan provider, Health Credit Services, found out that Cluney, an avid golfer and former semipro baseball player for the Yankees, had died 15 days before his identity was used to apply for the loan. The lender went on to make a jarring discovery: At least 20 of the loans it had doled out for procedures at Best U Now had been taken out in the names of the dead.

The scheme was detailed in a lawsuit filed by Health Credit Services last year in Broward Circuit Court. In the May 2019 court complaint, the financing company said it had uncovered rampant fraud months after signing an agreement with Best U Now and its director, Dorian Wilkerson, in December 2018 to provide loans for patients who couldn't afford procedures on their own. Health Credit Services sued Wilkerson and the plastic surgery center for alleged breach of contract and claimed Best U Now was "failing and refusing to cooperate" in the fraud inquiry.

After an eight-month court battle, the parties agreed to dismiss the case last month. But to this day, it remains unclear exactly who was responsible for the scheme. The Broward Sheriff's Office, which is investigating the alleged fraud, declined to discuss the case with New Times because of the active investigation.

Beyond the 20 loans obtained in the names of deceased people, 39 patient loans for medical procedures at Best U Now were tagged as fraudulent because the borrowers' social security numbers could not be verified, according to court records. The total amount in plastic surgery loans confirmed or suspected as fraudulent exceeded a half-million dollars — a sum that doesn't include the loan applications denied upfront "because the fraud had been detected prior to funding," the lender says.

The court file shows many of the stolen identities came from people who died between December 2018 and February 2019. Several of their obituaries are posted online. The fraudulent loan applications were submitted under their names primarily in January and February 2019.

Reached by New Times, Wilkerson denied involvement in the fraud. He maintains the financed plastic surgeries were not phantom bookings.

"For every application, there was a person we did surgery on. Was it the right person? No. We found out that it wasn't. That was news to us like it was to [the lender]," Wilkerson says.

According to Wilkerson, the loan applications were typically submitted through a third-party online portal and never through his office. Moreover, Best U Now was not responsible for authorizing the loans, he says.

"We're not the police. If a patient comes in with a license and another form of ID, and the license is legitimate as far as we know, we do the surgery," he says. "If it comes out that the loan account that they were connected to was fraud, it has nothing to do with us. And that's what happened."

Correction published 5/26/20: As originally published, this story erroneously stated that the suit Health Credit Services filed against Best U Now and Dorian Wilkerson was "settled." In fact, the case was dismissed by joint stipulation of the parties. The above version reflects the corrected text.

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