A Miami physician and his ex-wife, who control a group of South Florida cosmetic surgery clinics linked to repeated patient injuries and deaths, will refund more than $200,000 in deposits to customers as part of an agreement with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, whose office agreed to drop an investigation into the facilities.
Ismael Labrador, the physician, and Aimee De la Rosa, his ex-wife, signed the agreement in October, promising that their network of at least five clinics in Miami-Dade and Broward would abide by the state’s consumer protection laws, ensure their employees are properly licensed and trained, and pay refunds to customers whose deposits were never returned.
Among the storefront clinics owned and operated by Labrador and De la Rosa are Vanity Cosmetic Surgery in Miami, and Encore Plastic Surgery in Hialeah. Other clinics in their network, according to the state settlement, include Broward Cosmetic Surgery in Plantation, and Cosmetics Miami in Hialeah.
Research published in Dermatologic Surgery Journal concluded that the elective procedure liposuction, when performed under general anesthesia, required further investigation because deaths from this procedure continue to occur.
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Though Labrador and De la Rosa admitted no wrongdoing under the agreement, the Better Business Bureau has logged at least 127 complaints against Vanity in the past three years, mostly from consumers whose deposits were never refunded, often after the patients had changed their minds about surgery.
After reviewing complaints filed with the Florida Attorney General’s Office and the BBB, Labrador and De la Rosa agreed to pay $174,875 in restitution to customers, and an additional $27,844 to the state for all remaining consumers who were owed a refund, according to the agreement.
An additional $10,000 has been set aside to satisfy future consumer complaints, and the clinics also agreed to adopt new policies for refunding customer deposits, promising to return the monies within 21 days of a request.
Prior to signing the agreement, Labrador and De la Rosa filed notices of dissolution for the clinics with the Florida Division of Corporations in September, according to public records. Yelina Angulo, a Miami attorney who represented Labrador and De la Rosa in negotiations with the state Attorney General, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
But Giannina Sopo, a spokeswoman for Vanity, said in a written statement that the clinics are “rebranding” as Eres Plastic Surgery, which incorporated with the state in August.
“Like so many of our patients, we too are opening a new chapter in our lives with our rebranding effort,” Sopo said in the statement. “We have worked from the inside out to improve all aspects of patient care and we are in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations that regulate cosmetic surgery centers and businesses.”
$212,000 Consumer restitution paid by Ismael Labrador and Aimee De la Rosa under agreement with Florida Attorney General
Sopo added that clinic doctors and nurses will monitor patients closely before and after their surgeries, and that, “As an added safety measure, we now require all patients undergoing surgical procedures to undergo mandatory drug testing in order to avoid complications stemming from lifestyle choices, which may conflict with medication and anesthetics.”
Though the agreement with the attorney general’s office primarily addressed consumer deposits, Labrador and De la Rosa’s clinics also have been investigated by the Florida Department of Health and the Miami-Dade police department in the past for alleged medical malpractice and employing unlicensed clinicians.
Their network of clinics lure patients, mostly women and many from out of town, with the promise of cheap plastic surgery. But the results have been gruesome, with at least three deaths since 2014 — including two this year — and numerous patients rushed to local hospitals with debilitating injuries and infections.
In September, a 32-year-old woman from Doral died after undergoing a liposuction at Vanity. And in May, a 29-year-old woman from West Virginia suffered fatal complications after a “Brazilian butt lift” surgery at Encore. A third patient, a 51-year-old woman from Miami, died from a lung embolism after similar surgery performed at Vanity in 2014.
Though none of the surgeons who operated on the women have been prosecuted for the patients’ deaths, the Florida Department of Health has brought malpractice charges against at least one physician previously contracted to work at Vanity, Encore and an unaffiliated clinic called Spectrum Aesthetics in Miami.
Osakatukei “Osak” Omulepu, a physician who promised his patients flatter stomachs and curvaceous backsides, allegedly injured four patients in a span of three days in May 2015 while performing liposuction and Brazilian butt lift procedures, according to the state’s administrative complaint.
Up until about 2007, Florida strictly regulated outpatient surgery centers, requiring them to meet standards such as accreditation from the Joint Commission, a nationally recognized nonprofit that certifies hospitals and other medical facilities.
The health department placed an emergency restriction on Omulepu’s license in February, stating the physician presented an “immediate serious danger” to the public health if he were allowed to continue performing liposuction and fat transfers.
Omulepu appealed the restriction and regained his privileges in September after Florida’s First District Court of Appeals ruled that health department prosecutors had failed to provide sufficient evidence the physician would continue to harm patients.
The court’s ruling noted that the health department’s emergency restriction had been issued more than nine months after the alleged malpractice, and that, “It contains no allegations about Dr. Omulepu’s history as a licensed physician to suggest that he has made, or is likely to make, the same alleged errors again.”
Omulepu also challenged the health department’s malpractice charges, receiving a three-day administrative hearing at the Broward County courthouse in October, during which his defense attorney, Monica Felder Rodriguez, hobbled the prosecution by limiting the state’s medical expert’s testimony only to matters regarding liposuction but not fat transfers.
One patient, Nyosha Fowler, testified that she has yet to regain the use of her left foot after Omulepu allegedly injected fat into her sciatic nerve and repeatedly perforated her small bowel during a liposuction and Brazilian butt lift in May 2015 performed at Spectrum Aesthetics. Fowler spent 28 days in a coma at Baptist Hospital of Miami following the procedure.
Outside the hearing room, Fowler said she was “overwhelmed with emotion. … I haven’t been back to work. I don’t have any income. I have to see this to the end. I need closure.”
I haven’t been back to work. I don’t have any income. I have to see this to the end. I need closure.
Nyosha Fowler, former patient of Osak Omulepu
A second patient, who testified over the phone using only the initials LL, said Omulepu discharged her to a motel after surgery in May 2015 at Vanity Cosmetic. At the motel, the woman said, she bled profusely before calling her father, who rushed her to Homestead Hospital.
“I felt the life draining out of me,” the woman testified. “I was dying, and seeing the pool of blood all over the hotel and all over the bed was the most horrifying scene I have ever seen. That was horrible.”
The other two patients allegedly injured by Omulepu also testified about their ordeals, including one who said she spent two months in a hospital recovering from infections and a perforated liver.
Rodriguez, Omulepu’s attorney and a former health department prosecutor, said after the hearing that no one disputes the patients’ injuries, but that excessive bleeding and perforated organs are commonplace “complications” of liposuction and fat transfer surgeries.
“There are people who die from fat transfer,” she said. “If you get fat into a vein, it can cause a stroke. People are doing this anyway. This is a risk they’re willing to take on, even though they see people dying.”
Rodriguez also defended Omulepu’s reputation as a competent physician. He is currently practicing at BOD Cosmetic Surgery & Spa in Miami, and does not carry medical malpractice insurance.
Though Omulepu is not board certified in plastic surgery, Rodriguez said the doctor honed his expertise by performing an average of 50 liposuction or Brazilian butt lifts each week prior to the state’s filing charges in February.
“Of the thousands of patients that he’s done,” Rodriguez said, “most people are happy. Most people are thrilled.”
Mary Li Creasy, a judge with the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings, is expected to render a recommended order in Omulepu’s case in January.
Consumers can learn about a physician through the health department’s Medical Quality Assurance online search service, which can be used to verify a doctor’s medical license, educational background, professional certifications and disciplinary history.
While Omulepu faces potential discipline, though, the clinics where he worked are not subject to the same oversight.
Unless a cosmetic surgery clinic is wholly owned by a physician, the Florida Board of Medicine cannot take emergency action to restrict surgeries or close the center after a patient’s death, said Christopher Nuland, general counsel for the Florida Society of Plastic Surgeons.
And if the clinics do not accept insurance or file claims for reimbursement, they are legally exempt from oversight by the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration.
Nuland asked the Board of Medicine in June to support proposed legislative language that would give state officials authority to inspect, penalize and close office surgery clinics, similar to the way hospitals are regulated.
“These events are frustrating for us, and we would like you or at least some regulatory body to have disciplinary authority over the entity and not just the physician,” Nuland told the board.