An Orange County plastic surgeon who dubbed himself “Dr. Laguna” is under fire from dozens of former patients and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office amid claims of horribly botched procedures, medical negligence and a brief suspension of his medical license following the death of a patient.
The chief of the plastic surgery department at a south Orange County hospital calls Dr. Arian Mowlavi “a danger to the community.”
At least three dozen former patients have accused Mowlavi of a host of allegations — including the use of unlicensed technicians to help perform surgeries, the degrading treatment of disrobed women and the hard-selling of unnecessary procedures — in civil lawsuits filed in Orange County Superior Court.
A lawsuit filed by prosecutors at the OC DA’s office earlier this year echoed many of the allegations, while also accusing Mowlavi of unlawful business practices.
“This is life-altering,” one of the former patients told NBC News about the impact of an allegedly botched liposuction. “It isn’t just that I didn’t get the results I wanted, it’s much more extreme than that.”
Mowlavi is also in the midst of a 10-year probation period under an agreement with the state medical board that included a 90-day suspension of his medical license. All while a bankruptcy filing from the doctor — which cites the allegations raised by his former patients — makes its way through court.
And Mowlavi is facing an ongoing criminal investigation, a prosecutor wrote in a declaration filed with the OC DA’s lawsuit. That is on top of at least five civil suits — including the one from the DA’s office and four involving the former patients — that have been filed against him.
In his own court filings, Mowlavi has denied being responsible for any misconduct or medical malpractice, and has accused his critics of trying to destroy his career.
“This ongoing and relentless harassment continued to cause material damage to my medical practice and to my personal health and well-being, substantially interfering with my ability to continue to practice medicine,” Mowlavi wrote in one court filing tied to his bankruptcy.
Attorneys tied to the lawsuits filed against Mowlavi, attorneys representing him, and the women making the allegations against Mowlavi either did not respond or could not be reached for comment. But voluminous court filings — including sworn statements by medical peers and former employees of Mowlavi’s — outline in significant detail the allegations “Dr. Laguna” is facing.
Mowlavi, who according to his own marketing material is “considered one of the top body sculptors in the world,” has by his own estimate “performed over 15,000 procedures and is, as he puts it, “well regarded as a world-renowned face, body and breast sculptor.”
He has specifically touted himself as an expert in a technique known as High Definition Liposuction. In a book about the procedure, Mowlavi described High Definition Liposuction as a “game changer” that “allows your surgeon to precisely sculpt your body to previously unattainable results.”
A canny self-promoter, Mowlavi — a University of California, Berkeley graduate — markets himself on Instagram. Mowlavi also gained media attention for a classic rock band he performed with that included himself and other doctors, describing music and medicine as his “true loves” in a 2007 Orange County Register interview.
“I guess they’re both very artistic – at least for me, with the type of medicine I do, it’s very artist and creative,” Mowlavi told the Register reporter at the time. “I’ve always wanted to be a physician, so it’s not like they’re two separate things … (They’ve) always been part of my life.”
His accusers allege that over at least a four-year period Mowlavi performed unneeded procedures on patients without their informed consent and performed botched procedures that led to disfigurement or infection, which attorneys for the plaintiffs attributed to a desire to put his financial interests ahead of his patients’ health and safety.
Mowlavi also allowed unlicensed employees to perform some procedures and to handle post-operative care, the lawsuits allege, and removed prospective patients’ clothing and touched them without their consent.
“Mowlavi belittled and degraded his patients while he stood them naked in front of a mirror in the consultation room,” the plaintiff’s attorneys wrote in several filings. “Mowlavi pressured patients into procedures they did not want and on occasion even performed procedures that patients had not agreed to undergoing.”
“This is a case about a doctor that believes he is above the law,” the attorneys added.
The former patients described in their suits unexpected medical side effects from procedures they underwent with Mowlavi that allegedly left some hospitalized with at-times life-threatening ailments, and others in medical debt and unable to work.
In an accusation outlined in state medical board records, one of Mowlavi’s patients died days after undergoing surgery under his care. Hours after being discharged following a liposuction and multiple other procedures, the woman complained of shortness of breath and collapsed, ending up in an intensive care unit of a hospital. Two days later, the woman died at the hospital, her death cited as resulting from “surgical intervention leading to cardiac arrest and cerebral anoxia,” the latter condition referencing a complete interruption of the supply of oxygen to the brain.
In the case brought before the medical board, Mowlavi was alleged to have committed “gross negligence” in the case, including allowing surgical techs to perform liposuction surgery on the woman. Mowlavi reached a settlement with the medical board, resulting in his temporary medical license suspension followed by a 10-year probation period. According to the recent lawsuits filed against him, Mowlavi allegedly also reached a $1 million settlement with the woman’s family to settle a malpractice case.
Mowlavi, in the written declaration filed in connection to his bankruptcy case, blamed his financial and legal troubles on another social media influencer from Laguna Beach, who he described as a “vindictive former patient.” He described her as having carried out an “ongoing and relentless” harassment campaign, and noted that the attorneys she hired ultimately ended up representing the other former patients involved in the lawsuits.
“Dr. Mowlavi has never been responsible for any ‘sexual misconduct’ or ‘corruption’ or ‘medical malpractice’ or ‘patient death,’” an attorney representing Mowlavi wrote in a filing in one of the civil cases.
A medical expert cited in lawsuits filed by both the former patients as well as the Orange County District Attorney’s office raised serious questions about Mowlavi’s actions.
In sworn statements filed with the court, Dr. Robert Kachenmeister — a board-certified plastic surgeon and chief of the plastic surgery department at Providence Mission Hospital — wrote that based on his experience and observations, Mowlavi had a pattern of carrying out unnecessary and excessive procedures that had an unacceptable frequency of complications.
Dr. Kachenmeister described his department at Mission Hospital having to take care of a patient of what he described as “the Mowlavi procedure” and ending up with “full necrosis of her abdominal wall” — referencing the death of body tissue due to lack of blood flow — and injuries that led to her being admitted to the burn unit.
Kachenmeister wrote that he was so disturbed he reported it to the medical board and after hearing from other patients determined that “Dr. Mowlavi is a danger to the community and to his plastic surgery patients” who has acted “with deliberate indifference to the health and safety of his patients.”
Others who previously worked with or for Mowlavi provided their own declarations in support of the lawsuits filed by his former patients.
A sales rep for a medical company who watched Mowlavi perform surgery described being surprised that portions of the procedure were carried out by his unlicensed employees while Mowlavi was out of the room. The sales rep also alleged that after the procedure, when the patient was still under anesthesia, Mowlavi exclaimed “So hot, look at that” before slapping the patient twice on the butt.
An experienced registered nurse, in another declaration, described Mowlavi appearing to get frustrated at a “patient he didn’t like” and reaching into her mouth to rip out an endotracheal tube and throw it across the room. The nurse described sending Mowlavi’s office manager a text saying that Mowlavi was “off his rocker,” adding “I think he’s lost his mind. He intentionally extubated a patient this morning for no valid reason. His actions show a complete and total disregard for patient safety … He needs some help.”
One of Mowlavi’s former patients, in an interview with NBC News, described getting sepsis, a potentially deadly infection, after undergoing surgery. Another former patient, in an interview with the Daily Beast, said she spent a week in pain after her surgery, collapsed in her home, was taken to the emergency room and after waking up from a medical coma found she had injuries that “look like I am a shark bite victim.”
The OC DA, in their lawsuit, said the alleged use of unlicensed employees for pre-operative care, medical procedures and surgeries, and post-operative care on a daily basis constitutes “the unlicensed practice of medicine” and is therefore a violation of business practices, since they are accused of performing procedures only licensed individuals should be doing.
Mowlavi, in his own filings, has contended that he has never been found liable for medical malpractice and has never had a patient die on the operating table.
The DA’s lawsuit says that faced with the allegations, Mowlavi carried out “unlawful transactions” for the purpose of “avoiding financial liability.”
The lawsuit alleges that after learning of the medical malpractice accusations, Mowlavi in September 2021 transferred an estimated $13 million in assets to his spouse.
Lawsuits from the former patients were filed several months later, in December 2021, followed by Mowlavi filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early 2022.
The DA’s lawsuit alleges that in the statement of financial affairs that Mowlavi was required to file in his bankruptcy case, “Mowlavi failed to list the September transfer of $13,000,000 of real estate and personal property to his spouse, thereby concealing this transfer from the court and his creditors.”
Mowlavi has not yet filed a response.
Source: Orange County Register