The waiting room of Dr. Richard Feldman’s diet clinic is a depressing place.
Behind the big wooden door and vertical blinds that separate the room from the street is the gloom of well trod wall-to-wall carpeting and flowers wilting in vases.
On a recent weekday afternoon, the place reeks with a humid funk reminiscent of sweaty children or unwashed dogs. About a dozen patients sit on standard-issue waiting-room chairs. The people are large, listless. Almost all are women, mostly black and Hispanic. There is one man with his wife and baby.
Two small children play and fuss around their mother’s leg. The appendage is nearly as wide as the two children combined. The mother sits slack-jawed, hands joined in her vast lap, head cocked to the side, staring into oblivion. The children at her feet giggle quietly.
On the walls hang pictures of women that these unfortunates most likely will never resemble—trim, smiling honeys in pink and blue bikinis. They have tan, slender legs, taut bellies and breasts that have not yet yielded to the inevitability of gravity.
In the middle of the room hangs another picture, this one placed higher than the others as if in the center of a slim and sexy pantheon. This picture is of Dr. Feldman, the man who started this clinic near West End Avenue. In the picture, he’s sitting in an ornate chair looking relaxed and confident. A half-moon of black hair rings his bald pate. He has a big, bushy mustache like some South American generalissimo. Sitting in the chair next to him is President Ronald Reagan.
With nine diet clinics across Tennessee, one in Los Angeles his own line of herbal supplements, and services that include Botox and other nonsurgical cosmetic treatments, Dr. Feldman has built quite a business. His ads claim that his Doctors Diet Program is “Tennessee’s No. 1 physician-supervised weight loss clinic.” His website—www.smallerclothes.com—makes the McDonald’s-like boast, “Over 40,000 patients served.” Dr. Feldman’s diet empire is so big that he needs a private plane, which he pilots, to keep tabs on his various offices.
But what many of Dr. Feldman’s patients probably don’t know is that he is a diagnosed sex addict. According to the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners—which licenses and polices doctors—Feldman has a history of molesting patients and making sexually inappropriate remarks to—and about—his staff. Those who have worked with him say that he hits on minors and employees. In the late 1990s, he settled a sexual harassment suit with a former employee for $10,000, according to court documents.
Feldman clearly loves the ladies. He loves them so much in fact, that for a time he wasn’t averse to paying—or at least swapping—for them. There’s evidence that Feldman would provide prostitutes at one of Nashville’s now defunct houses of ill repute with medical services free of charge. Well, almost free. As payment for his services, he would sample theirs.
In 1998, Dr. Feldman’s inability to control his sexual impulses with patients in Tennessee resulted in his medical license being permanently revoked in Ohio, where he attended medical school. In Tennessee, however, the medical board penalized him with a mere $2,500 fine and one year of probation. He also had to attend a treatment program for sex addicts at a high-priced clinic. When Feldman bailed on the program early, he was fined an additional $2,000 and his probation was extended to September 2003.
But this sanction didn’t prohibit Feldman from practicing medicine. Far from it. After paying his fine, he was allowed to continue practicing as a licensed doctor as long as he submitted to psychiatric treatment. He’s been seeing patients and prescribing pills ever since.
Even after Feldman ran afoul of the medical board for a third time in 2001—after some of his promotional literature violated the state’s ethical guidelines—all he received was a slap on the wrist. He paid a $1,000 fine and continued doing business as usual.
Breaking ethical guidelines in pursuit of flashy marketing seems to have become a habit for Feldman. Last month, he was brought before the medical board yet again, this time for claims made on his website regarding “mesotherapy” injections. Mesotherapy is a holistic treatment that proponents say will do everything from eliminating cellulite to reversing signs of aging. According to the medical board, Feldman claimed that his mesotherapy treatments cause a “typical patient to lose up to two dress sizes with 10 treatments.”
The medical board says that such claims are a misrepresentation, and it is threatening to hit the doctor with fines totaling more than $120,000.
But this investigation into false claims about his curative powers didn’t stop Feldman from recently launching a new ad campaign. Pictures of slim young women much like the ones that grace his office waiting room have been splashed across billboards and bus stop benches around Nashville. “34D+24+35,” they read. With just a phone call and a prescription you too can attain Playboy-perfect measurements and the attention that comes with them.
Unfortunately for some of Dr. Feldman’s patients, he gave them more attention than they could handle.
“On or about Dec. 22, 1993, Patient B was seen by Respondent (Dr. Feldman) for a follow up visit for herself and her infant daughter regarding cold-like symptoms….While conducting an examination (Dr. Feldman) placed his stethoscope under the Patient’s sweater and placed his other hand under her bra and began rubbing her breast and pinching her nipple. Patient B immediately pulled (Dr. Feldman’s) hand out. (Dr. Feldman) then grabbed Patient B’s hand and placed it on his groin…. (Dr. Feldman) ran his hand under Patient B’s panties and moved his finger around her clitoris. Patient B’s baby who was present during the entire examination started to get up. Patient B got up and dressed…. He asked if she could come back around 1 p.m. when the Nurse was at lunch. Patient refused.”
So reads just one of many complaints against Dr. Richard Feldman lodged with the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners. These were quoted at length in the 1998 board decision against him. At the time that some of the complaints were filed, Feldman was still a general practitioner and had not yet turned his practice into the weight loss juggernaut that it is today. This is not to say that he wasn’t busy. Just a week after the above incident, Feldman did it again. On Dec. 28, 1993, a 25-year-old woman whom medical board documents refer to as Patient A came to see Feldman. She had a cold.
Dr. Feldman began “examining Patient A with a stethoscope.” During the examination, he “placed his hand in Patient A’s bra and fondled her breast. As he fondled her breast, (Dr. Feldman) said, ‘What do we have here?’ ”
Patient A swatted Dr. Feldman’s hand away. He then began to examine her abdomen but quickly moved south, placing “his hand inside her panties.” Feldman then began to “rub the Patient’s pubic area” saying, “A natural blonde, I see.”
Feldman then asked his patient to remove her pants so that he could give her an injection. “Prior to administering the injection, (Dr. Feldman) placed his finger in her anus but Patient A pulled away.”
Although Dr. Feldman did not respond to repeated attempts to contact him at his office, his attorney Larry Roberts says that the women who made these allegations are not to be believed.
Roberts says that these women were “people of very questionable character. I wouldn’t believe them if they swore on a stack of Bibles.” He added that after the hearing before the medical board one of the women admitted to lying about “engaging in prostitution.”
But the medical board’s findings sided with the accusers. And as terrible as these two incidents were, the board accused Feldman of even worse. According to the medical board’s disciplinary documents, Dr. Feldman had sex with a 17-year-old patient.
The girl was a regular patient of Feldman’s. She told the doctor that she had had sex for the first time and wanted “medical information concerning sex.” When she showed up for her visit, Feldman was outside the office waiting for her. He said that the office was closed for lunch and invited her to come with him to eat.
Instead of taking her to lunch, he directed the 17-year-old to his house, where he took her inside and had sex with her. During future visits, he “continued to exhibit sexual behavior toward her.”
Roberts, Dr Feldman’s attorney, denies that the girl was a minor. “She was 18,” he says. “She testified that she had consensual sex with him and that he showed her how to use a bidet, which he had at his home. Then she drove him to his office.”
Roberts also says that Feldman continued to treat her for many months after that. Even assuming the lawyer’s version of events, the Hippocratic oath’s guidelines for the ethical practice of medicine expressly says that physicians must avoid sexual relations or other inappropriate entanglements with patients and their families.
According to the medical board documents, sex wasn’t the only thing on Dr. Feldman’s mind; he also demonstrated a sick sense of humor.
He told a patient who came to him about her back pain that “there was nothing more he could do for her and that she could put a gun in her mouth and pull the trigger.”
Another time, he was performing a pelvic exam on a woman who was on an examination table with her feet spread apart in stirrups. As Feldman was sitting on a stool between her legs, he leaned in and said “Hello” as if waiting for an echo. When the patient objected to this remark, Feldman said “that he was just joking.”
His attorney says that these anecdotes have been taken out of context. The woman Feldman advised to kill herself was morbidly obese and refused to follow his medical advice. “She was diabetic, and he told her if you’re going to keep eating poorly and living the lifestyle you’ve been living, you might as well put a gun in your mouth.”
Feldman’s linguistic dramatics haven’t been limited strictly to his patients. According to the medical board and court documents, as well as interviews with those who know Feldman, his employees are also treated to his special brand of interpersonal interaction and unique sense of humor.
Anthony Lucas, who runs a marketing and PR company in Nashville, worked with Feldman on the 34D+24+35 ad campaign. He says that when he first came to Feldman’s 29th Avenue office last year, the doctor wanted to show Lucas the efficacy of his weight loss program. Feldman did so by “pulling up the shirts of female employees” and saying, “Look at the work I did!”
Roberts says that Lucas is running a shady business and isn’t credible. “His cell phone doesn’t work, he doesn’t have a website and his office address is a P.O. box.”
Some of the acrimony between the two may also be because Lucas is considering suing Feldman for $70,0000 that he feels the doctor owes him for the ad campaign.
Roberts says that Lucas is “getting no money from Feldman” and welcomes him to file suit “sooner rather than later.”
Whatever animus exists between Feldman and Lucas, the ad man isn’t the only one who thinks that the diet doctor has acted inappropriately toward his staff.
According to a 1997 suit filed in Davidson County Chancery Court by a former business partner of Feldman’s, the secretary-treasurer of Feldman’s business accused him of sexual harassment. According to the documents, the woman settled her claim with Feldman for $10,000. When the woman later testified before the medical board about Feldman’s behavior, he tried to block her from retrieving the money, which had been placed in a mutually agreed upon account. The final outcome of that dispute is unknown because both parties signed a confidentiality agreement. The Scene contacted the woman at home, but she declined to comment.
Dr. Feldman’s attorney says that the doctor never touched the woman and that, contrary to what the legal documents at the courthouse say, the settlement wasn’t for sexual harassment.
But the medical board records show that Dr. Feldman did engage in frat boy-like antics toward female employees. On one occasion, he asked a male patient if he had seen the new nurse, the one he’d hired for her “brains.” As Feldman said this he cupped his hands in front of his chest. The same patient overheard Feldman say, “Boy, she’s got some knockers,” apparently in reference to a patient who was in an examination room.
Leslie is a pretty, 20-year-old coed with shoulder-length brown hair and a girl-next-door smile. You can catch a glimpse of her if you drive by Feldman’s office on 29th Avenue just off West End. That’s because there’s a life-sized picture of her on a billboard atop the small house that now functions as his office. It’s right above the large red, white and blue sign that reads, “YOU FOUND US, DOCTORS DIET PROGRAM” in big block letters.
In the picture, Leslie is reclining in a pink two-piece. Her hair is perfectly coifed. Beneath her, big red letters spell out, “Prescription Diet Pills.”
Leslie looks like a professional model, and she is in fact signed with a modeling agency in Nashville. But Feldman didn’t find her through her agency. He approached her as she was walking into South Street Bar.
“Will you be a billboard girl?” the then 19-year-old college student remembers him asking.
At first, Leslie was skeptical. After all, here was an older man—Feldman’s 59, according to police reports—asking her if he could take pictures of her in a bathing suit. She says she asked him pointed questions and he seemed legitimate. Still, she was circumspect enough that she wouldn’t agree to anything on the spot.
“I was out with my friends,” she says. “I told him to have his attorney send me paperwork so I would know he was for real.”
Leslie eventually agreed to work for Feldman for $1,000. In return, she would pose for billboards, bus benches and other advertising materials. For extra money she would accompany the doctor to some of his offices and talk up his products to patients.
The way she describes it, working for Feldman wasn’t such a bad gig. Except for one thing.
“He was always very, very sexual towards me…. He was a dirty old man,” she says. “He would get a little close for my comfort.”
Leslie says that she rebuffed his advances and “made it clear that this was going to be strictly professional.” She even went so far as to tell him, “I’m not here to date you.”
But still the doctor persisted. “He would always make comments,” she says. He would tell her how he would “take care of me and fly me here and there.”
Eventually the two argued because he wanted her to accompany him on a trip to his Clarksville office in his plane. She says she doesn’t fly in small planes and wasn’t about to make an exception for Feldman. “He got mad at me, and we stopped talking. That was it.”
Though soliciting models on the street is unconventional, Leslie wasn’t the first young woman that Feldman approached in such a way.
Rachel Ablondi was just 17 when Feldman approached her in a Wal-Mart in March 2005.
She was shopping with a friend when the doctor “walked over to us and asked what we thought about modeling,” the now 18-year-old says.
At the time, she expressed an interest. He was enthusiastic. “That’s awesome!” she says the doctor told her. “I need some girls to do swimsuits for me.” He called her and invited her to lunch, but she couldn’t make it. Instead, they set up a time for her to come and take some test shots.
Nervous about going to have her picture taken by strangers, the 17-year-old brought her mother along.
When she got there, she learned that Feldman—and not a professional photographer—would be taking the pictures. “He was using a cheap snapshot camera like the kind you get at Walgreen’s or something,” she says.
“I kind of felt awkward because I had my swimsuit on and the poses were kind of sexual. I felt out of place.”
Her mother felt the same way. “My mother was fine with this at first but…she said the poses made her feel uncomfortable because they were very sexual and very…out there, I guess you could say.”
She says that Feldman took about a half-dozen pictures and promised to send her copies. He didn’t.
“I was supposed to get pictures from him and never got a call.” She says that her calls to him went unreturned.
Ad man Anthony Lucas says that this impromptu auditioning of girls Feldman picked up on the street was not part of his PR plan. Lucas says that he only hires professional models from legitimate agencies.
But Feldman had other ideas. “He would call me from the strip club at 2 o’clock in the morning” and say he’d found a hottie. “She’s going to be on our billboard,” he’d say.
When asked about Feldman’s flirting and solicitations of these women, his attorney says, “I don’t know about that, but as somebody once said, ‘There’s no harm in asking.’ ”
But there is another dark side of Feldman too: his temper.
Almost everyone interviewed for this story describes the way he berates his staff, and documents show that he could often be just as harsh to patients.
According to the medical board, in March of 1995 Feldman discovered that one of his patients was a TennCare enrollee, at which point he “screamed at her that she would be responsible for the bill and threatened her in a loud manner.” He went on to tell her that “since TennCare did not pay what (Feldman) wanted, he would have to send them a more exaggerated bill.” Then, perhaps most egregious of all, Feldman “verbally accosted” the patient’s small child, “threatening to give the 3-year-old a shot if he did not remove his foot from the respondent’s chair.”
Feldman told the patient to write a check for half of the bill. The doctor would later be reimbursed for the full amount, but according to the medical board he “did not return the portion paid by the patient.”
Feldman’s attorney says that, once again, this information is taken out of context. “The fact was that the child was in the reception room and they couldn’t calm him down and the doctor said, ‘If you don’t sit down, I’m going to give you a shot’ and the child did sit down.”
As for his treatment of the TennCare patient, Roberts says, “I know for a fact that Dr. Feldman treated a lot of TennCare patients when a lot of other doctors would not. I don’t think that he yelled at a patient just because she was on TennCare.” The attorney then suggests that the patient may have just been looking to score. “I know from my own observations that patients have come in just wanting prescription drugs and Feldman refuses.”
If this TennCare patient got a stern talking to, she got off a lot easier than Ray Cross. Cross had been a patient of Feldman’s for some time. According to a police report Cross filed in 1993, he had reason to call Feldman at 2 a.m. Feldman answered the phone and told Cross to call the office the next day. He did so and the nurse told him to “come on in.” According to the police report, Cross was shown to a treatment room where he waited for Feldman.
Eventually, Feldman walked in and recognized him. “I know you now, you S.O.B.,” Cross quotes Feldman as saying. “You’re the one who called me at 2 a.m. Get the F out of my office (sic).”
Cross claims that his doctor then punched him in the shoulder “with a closed fist.” Next, Feldman grabbed Cross by the shirt and pulled him out the door.
The worst was yet to come.
“As I went out the door,” Cross says in the police report, “he kicked me between the legs and buttocks, striking…my testicles.” Cross’ statement to police ends with the chilling line, “I believe the testicles were bruised internally.”
Though Roberts was not representing Feldman at the time, he says, “I can have anyone arrested for anything. I could say that you attempted armed robbery of me and get that done.”
Some of the women who claim that Feldman mistreated them had no such recourse.
He called one patient a “dyke or a butch” because of the way that she dressed. At least that woman got treatment.
Another one of his female patients wasn’t so lucky.
In 1994, when a patient came to Dr. Feldman complaining of a painful cyst in her tailbone, the doctor opened the appointment by making “remarks about the patient’s breasts, which…were derogatory.” He then began a vaginal exam. As he was performing the exam he “made insensitive comments about ‘an old fish’ odor.” Feldman then told his female assistant to “come closer and smell this.”
According to the medical board documents, Feldman wouldn’t even treat her. Instead the patient had to go to Baptist Convenient Care later that evening to be treated.
Feldman’s uncouth behavior hasn’t mellowed with time. Leslie, the young model that Feldman met at a bar last year, says that despite the fact that the doctor is “pulling in money,” he still, “treats his workers horribly. He has a very short temper. He blows up quickly and he cusses them out.”
Dawn’s Day Spa was a very popular brothel. For six years, between 1993 and 1999, its employees serviced Nashville’s needy men from a building on Eighth Avenue South.
Tera M. Daniels was the madam of Dawn’s until a federal judge sent her to prison for more than 15 years. According to Charlie Ray, who represented Daniels at trial, and the medical board documents, Daniels and Feldman had a little deal worked out: he would provide the ladies of Dawn’s with medical care, and they would provide him with sex.
“Feldman frequented the place all the time,” Ray says. Witnesses in the Daniels case made it clear to the attorney that Feldman took “liberties with the staff based upon his contract to provide medical service to the employees of Dawn’s Whirlpool and Massage.”
The documents from the medical board corroborate these statements. They say that Feldman “frequented a certain massage parlor” and would “exchange medical treatment, prescriptions, and/or medications for sex with the female workers.”
The documents describe one occasion when Feldman “set up a portable operating room in one of the massage rooms to remove a wart from the owner’s hand.” After the procedure Feldman asked the owner, “I can have anyone, right?”
Feldman’s attorney categorically denies that his client ever had such an arrangement.
“That exchange thing was absolutely untrue,” Roberts says. “…Those girls came to him because he would treat them when other doctors refused to do so.”
Most galling is the fact that the very agency in charge of protecting the public from such delinquent doctors did next to nothing to stop him. The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners found that Feldman molested, abused, insulted, robbed and took advantage of patients, had sex with a minor, frequented a brothel and treated his own employees poorly. Yet the agency, whose self-stated mission is to “safeguard the health, safety and welfare of Tennesseans,” gave Feldman little more than an administrative slap on the wrist and a vacation at a fancy clinic.
This weak-kneed response stands in stark contrast to the decisive actions taken by the Ohio Medical Board—a state where Feldman used to hold a medical license—when it discovered Feldman’s Tennessee shenanigans.
“The members of our board thought that his behavior was totally abhorrent,” says board spokeswoman Joan Wehrle. “Permanent revocation was the only appropriate action.” She went on to say that if Feldman’s primary place of business had been Cincinnati, rather then Nashville, it is “more than likely” that his license would have been permanently revoked for his behavior.
The Tennessee medical board took a slightly different—and surprisingly lenient—posture. In its initial 1997 order, the board required Feldman to pay a $2,500 civil fine and serve one year of probation, during which time he could still practice medicine. Part of his probation required that Feldman obtain the advocacy of a respected physician. In this case, the board paired him with Dr. David Dodd of Vanderbilt’s Physicians Health Program. Dodd, who has worked to treat physicians with mental or emotional illness, was supposed to do the same for Feldman. If Feldman complied with the treatment regimen, Dodd would speak on his behalf before the medical board.
According to court documents, Dodd recommended that Feldman go to a specific psychiatrist at the Menninger Clinic in Houston, Texas. After a few days at Menninger in March 1998, Feldman was diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder and sexual addiction.
Court records also state that the psychiatrist at Menninger recommended that Feldman return to the clinic for six continuous weeks of treatment. He stayed for half that time and then checked out. When he got back to Nashville, he failed to communicate with Dodd and lost Dodd’s advocacy as a result.
Dodd did not return calls for comment.
Eventually—though the court documents do not specify exactly when—Feldman returned to Menninger and finished the program. He also attended Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings and began seeing a psychologist who testified that Feldman had “made real progress.” But it was too little too late, and in August of 1998 the board extended Feldman’s probation to five years.
Even as it increased the punishment, the medical board made its priorities abundantly clear. This statement prefaced the board’s sanctions: “This action is taken so that this physician can continue to provide proper and adequate care to the citizens of the State of Tennessee….”
Dr. Arthur Caplan, chair of the Department of Medical Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, is not at all surprised that the state medical board let Feldman off easy—not once, not twice, but three times.
“The problem with medical boards is that they see their jobs as to keep doctors in practice, not to protect the public.”
Caplan should know. For years, he sat on the New York State medical board.
“These boards look at doctors as their colleagues,” he says. “The first priority of the medical board is, ‘Let’s not take this resource offline.’ ”
Caplan also says that the very nature of doctors is to look at human flaws as symptomatic and therefore treatable. “They tend to see things more as diseases or illnesses that need treatment rather than as criminal behaviors that need to be punished.”
Perhaps with these new allegations the medical board means business. The notice of charges submitted by the board in May accuse Feldman of fraud, deceit, gross malpractice, incompetence and negligence.
In short, the board is saying that Feldman’s claims about the miraculous effects of mesotherapy treatment are lies.
The treatment itself is rather simple. According to an industry trade group, mesotherapy—created in 1952 by a French physician—is the practice of injecting a cocktail of medications, vitamins and supplements into the middle layer of the skin. The injections, sometimes hundreds in a session, must be repeated for 10 sessions to be effective. A 2003 ABC news investigation on the treatment found that though results could sometimes be dramatic, the safety of the treatment was still very much an open question.
The medical board says that Feldman’s now defunct website, www.doctorsantiaging.com, made claims about mesotherapy that were unsupported by research. These included statements that patients will lose “one pound of fat per week on average…equal to four sticks of butter!”
Also troubling was that when a medical board investigator confronted Feldman about why and how the procedure worked, all he had to say was “It just works,” according to the medical board.
The case is now in discovery, and the next scheduled proceeding in the matter is in November. If the board finds against him and Feldman is penalized to the full extent of the law, he would have to pay a $1,000 fine for every time he stuck someone with a mesotherapy needle. Not $1,000 per patient, but for each injection given to a patient. Since some treatment regimens require hundreds of injections per session, the cost to Feldman could be astronomical.
Feldman might also have to pay $500 for each day that he advertised the wondrous effects of mesotherapy. According to the medical board documents, his mesotherapy website was up “at least Sept. 29, 2004 until on or about May 24, 2005.” That’s over $120,000.
And of course, Feldman could lose his license over this, but given his history with the board, that may not be in the cards.
Even if he does lose his license, it will be cold comfort to the family of one of his former patients.Mary A. Spurgas was 44 when she died in January 1997.
Her brother Richard says that her weight had always been a problem for her and she was increasingly unhappy about it. He says she was looking for “a miracle drug so that she could live a normal life.” She found the Doctors Diet Clinic. At the clinic, she was given a prescription for Fen-Phen, an amphetamine-like diet drug that the FDA would later pull from the market because it caused a rare heart disease.
By this time, Fen-Phen was illegal in Tennessee, but Feldman had devised a way to get around the law. Newspaper reports from Ohio, where Feldman went to medical school, say that he would fly patients to Cincinnati and write prescriptions for the drug there.
Although Spurgas’ family wasn’t sure whether Mary had accompanied Feldman on one of his prescription jaunts to Ohio, they’re certain that she had to go out of her way to get the drugs.
“She was going across the border into Kentucky or out of one county and into another to even visit his office,” her brother Richard says. “There was a state issue or something.”
Mary Spurgas was a diabetic. Her brother says that she would have “crises” where she would have to be rushed to the emergency room “with blood sugar that soared to 500, 600, 700 [milligrams per deciliter].” The average blood sugar in a healthy human is between 80 and 90 milligrams per deciliter.
Fen-Phen manufacturer Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories lists diabetes as a “risk factor” for those taking the drug.
On Jan. 13, 1997, Spurgas went into a diabetic coma and died. After Mary’s death, her mother Marjorie, who lived in West Virginia, filed a $25 million lawsuit against Feldman, another doctor who worked at the clinic and the drug’s manufacturers. Marjorie thought that Fen-Phen killed her daughter.
In court documents, she alleged that Mary “died as a direct result of negligence by the defendants,” because they did not “properly assess” her as a candidate for Fen-Phen.
In court documents, Feldman denied everything, including that he had ever seen Spurgas as a patient. Feldman further claimed that the physician who did prescribe Fen-Phen to Spurgas didn’t even work for him but rather was “employed by the Clinic and not by me.” He also stated that Spurgas “withheld vital information about her true medical condition from the physicians who treated her at Doctors Diet Clinics”—namely, that she was a diabetic.
Whatever the relationship between Feldman, the diet clinic and Mary Spurgas, the lawyers for Mary’s family felt that they couldn’t prove that Feldman had acted negligently and urged them to drop the case. They did so in 2000. Marjorie died last March.
But within the Spurgas family, doubt lingers. Anne Spurgas, Mary’s sister-in-law, says that when Mary visited at Christmas 1996, just two-and-a-half-weeks before her death, she didn’t look healthy. Mary told her family that when Feldman wrote her most recent prescription she was “way below the body mass index.”
An autopsy revealed that at the time of Mary’s death, the 5-foot-5 woman weighed 112 pounds. Her body mass index would have been 18.6, according to the U.S. department of Health and Human Services, which is considered underweight. To this day, Mary’s family is puzzled as to why a doctor would continue to prescribe diet pills to someone in this condition.
“He had given her a recent prescription,” sister-in-law Anne says.
Though Feldman’s past has yet to catch up with him, it would seem that his future is bright. He just opened yet another clinic, this one in Murfreesboro, and his website promises that online sales of his diet supplements will be “coming soon.”
Online sales may well be a boon for Feldman. It might help him retain patients who might otherwise be put off by his bedside manner. Leslie the model sums up his in-person demeanor this way: “He’s a total creep.”
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