Arizona

Tucson's 'Fake Doctor' Caused Liposuction Patients Some Real Pain

Tucson's 'Fake Doctor' Caused Liposuction Patients Some Real Pain
New Times Photo Illustration. Source Images: Shutterstock.com
So when is a doctor not a doctor? When he’s performing liposuction in a warehouse or his home. Or, as the state's press release put it, when he’s a “fake doctor.”

Gustavo Felix Nunez and his Tucson “medical practice” risk becoming a punchline to a lot of bad doctor jokes, but his case is no laughing matter.

He’s on his way to prison, and at least one of his patients went to ICU with a coma, state prosecutors say. They were real patients, and they were really hurt.
click to enlarge Gustavo Felix Nunez - COURTESY OF ARIZONA ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE
Gustavo Felix Nunez
Courtesy of Arizona Attorney General's Office

Last week, Nunez pleaded guilty to 28 felony charges. He will face a minimum of 13 years behind bars, Arizona Attorney General spokeswoman Mia Garcia said.

The plea agreement shows that Nunez, 54, was charged with 70 offenses for performing liposuction on nine women between 2012 and 2014. He was arrested in August 2013, after a three-month investigation by DEA and the Tucson and South Tucson police.

He was released after his initial arrest and continued to perform the operations until he was arrested again in 2014.

According to the plea deal, Nunez charged the women a total of $23,760 to treat them at his NuTec International clinic, which is an industrial warehouse. When DEA agents searched the place, they found liposuction needles, a cabinet full of Lidocaine, and fridges stuffed with what the feds affectionately called “controlled substances.”

Those included Halcion and Valium, the DEA said in a press release at the time.

DEA agents found several refrigerators filled with prohibited drugs inside NuTec in Tucson. - COURTESY OF DEA
DEA agents found several refrigerators filled with prohibited drugs inside NuTec in Tucson.
Courtesy of DEA
 “Nunez wore scrubs when meeting with potential patients and fashioned his office to look like a doctor’s office,” according to the plea agreement filed in Pima County Superior Court.

Problem was, there is no record Nunez was ever licensed to practice medicine in Arizona.

NuTec shows up online in the Yellow Pages as a medical supply place, and on an unofficial Facebook page not related to the company. A number of review sites list it, but none has any actual reviews. There is no Better Business Bureau listing.

Nunez did file papers to incorporate NuTec International LLC in 2007.

Problem two: He apparently didn’t know what he was doing.

The surgery where Gustavo Nunez performed some of his liposuction treatments. - COURTESY OF DEA
The surgery where Gustavo Nunez performed some of his liposuction treatments.
Courtesy of DEA
On June 27, 2014, he performed liposuction on Brenda Lucero in his home, according to court records, and Nunez’ confession in court.

The woman “suffered from Lidocaine toxicity,” the plea deal said, adding, “The result of the Lidocaine toxicity was that Brenda Lucero stopped breathing and began seizing.”

Nunez lacked the proper training, experience, or equipment to deal with the mishap. Instead, he decided not to call an ambulance, waiting an hour before taking her to the ER.

This “contributed to the lack of oxygen that led to the anoxic brain damage to Brenda Lucero. Brenda Lucero spent six weeks in a coma because of this procedure performed by Nunez,” court records said.

As a result, the plea deal concluded, “Lucero has limited use of her body and cannot perform daily tasks including eating, bathing, going to the bathroom, and other simple tasks. Brenda Lucero will never regain the ability to perform these tasks on her own.”

Garcia described her condition as “permanent stroke-like conditions.”

click to enlarge Investigators found liposuction needles inside NuTec International in Tucson during a 2013 search warrant. - COURTESY OF DEA
Investigators found liposuction needles inside NuTec International in Tucson during a 2013 search warrant.
Courtesy of DEA
Two of the other women also went to the hospital.

Nunez left Monica Gallardo’s breasts so badly infected that she had to go to Tucson Medical Center to have them surgically drained of the discharge. She could have died, the prosecutor said. As it was, she needed multiple surgeries to correct the disfigurement Nunez caused.

Nunez admitted to aggravated assault, practicing medicine without a license, fraud, and conspiracy, among other charges.

He is scheduled to be sentenced in August, Garcia said.



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Sean Holstege is the editor of Phoenix New Times. He's been a print news reporter for 35 years. He was an investigative reporter at The Arizona Republic and the Oakland Tribune. He won a Sigma Delta Chi award for investigative reporting. He’s covered transportation, terrorism, the border, disasters, child welfare, courts, and breaking news.
Contact: Sean Holstege