PHILADELPHIA - The wife of a foot doctor accused of performing liposuction without a license swings a mop handle at a FOX 29 Investigates crew when Jeff Cole shows up to ask questions.
Some images in this story you might find disturbing. Here is Jeff's report.
This man says a desire to quickly and easily drop pounds led him to liposuction.
"I had weight that I just couldn't get off with diet, exercise, and it really started to bother me," said the man, who got more than he bargained for.
Embarrassed with the results, he asked us to hide his identity.
He showed us scars where the suction device was inserted, a bulge left on one side of his torso, and an indentation on the other, where he got a staph infection.
"It's upsetting to me that I can't even take my shirt off in public at a beach," he told us.
Who did the procedure? He went to Professional Cosmetic Center, located near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and this man, Steven Nielson.
But there's a problem.
"Mr. Nielson, you lost your license to practice medicine in New Jersey. But we have information that you practiced in Pennsylvania," Cole said.
"I don't practice any medicine," Nielson responded.
"Did you do lipo in 2015?" Cole asked, as Nielson closed the door.
Despite being told his procedure went well, the patient soon came down with a nasty infection.
Every day for two weeks, he says, he went back to have cheesecloth stuffed through the infected area and saline squirted in. He got painkillers and antibiotics from Nielson at the office.
"So, this was a botched job?" Cole asked.
"Oh, it was definitely a botched job," the patient responded.
"From someone who should never have touched you with the equipment that he used," Cole followed-up.
"No, he should not have touched me," the patient said.
He learned Nielson, a foot doctor, was indicted in New Jersey for doing liposuction and botox and billing insurance carriers for it back in 2006.
Nielson's license was pulled, and he was hit with $754,065.18 worth of civil penalties and fees. He hasn't paid a cent.
He also pleaded guilty to one count of 27 on the indictment – practicing medicine without a license – and got three years' probation.
He moved to Lancaster County, Pa., filed for bankruptcy and went back to podiatry.
Pennsylvania officials noticed in 2010.
State regulators brought him in for a hearing. Nielson, who records show suffers from an obsessive compulsive disorder, said his problems came when he got off his meds. A psychiatrist said he might be bipolar, too. It took three years, but Pennsylvania suspended his license to practice.
Nielson moved online, registering websites that included BubbleButtLipo.com, before setting up sites for Professional Cosmetic Center and, later, its new name, Smart Body Sculpting.
In YouTube videos touting the businesses' services, Nielson calls himself the "cosmetic consultant," and says, "At Professional Cosmetic Center, we utilize the safest liposuction technique."
They also perform laser tattoo removal, Botox injections and more.
"All of our doctors are board-certified with many years of cosmetic surgery experience," Nielson says in the YouTube clip.
Dr. John E. Crews III was identified online as the "medical director."
But the day we questioned Nielson, SmartBodySculpting.com went "under construction."
FOX 29 Investigates spoke to another patient there. She declined to go on camera but came down with a form of cell injury called necrosis after having fat transferred from her stomach to her butt this year. She says Nielson did her work, too.
Remember, his license is suspended in Pennsylvania.
The woman says some of her money was refunded after she agreed to take down a negative review on Yelp.com.
The male patient we interviewed also left online postings to warn off others.
He's not suing Nielson," he said, "…'Cause he's not a doctor, there's no medical insurance. He owns nothing, and I'm here to fend for myself and take care of myself."
We found Nielson moving out of a rental home in Ephrata, Pa., 60 miles outside of Philly, and pressed him on the lipo.
Cole: "Did you do the lipo on him?"
Cole: "Who did?"
Nielson: "Dr. Crews."
Cole: "Says it was you."
Cole: "Says it was you."
Cole: "You did it."
Cole: "Crews did it?"
Cole: "Not you?"
Dr. Crews didn't return messages, so we paid him a visit, too.
"Yeah, I've been trying to talk to you," Cole said. "Why are you walking away? Listen…"
"I don't talk to reporters," Crews said.
"But, listen real quickly – don't run! Hey, Dr. Crews! Steve Nielson said you did the lipo?" Cole said as Crews broke into a run."Dr. Crews? Why are you running away?"
Crews ran back into another office where he practices.
He calls himself a "celebrity weightloss physician and entrepreneur." But he's got a checkered past, too. In 2012, he pleaded guilty to a federal charge of theft from a health care benefits program. He's suspended in Virginia, surrendered his New York license but is "on probation" in Pennsylvania.
The lipo patients we spoke to say they filed complaints months ago with state licensing officials. But nothing has happened.
A state spokeswoman said she couldn't comment, but investigations can take months, particularly if law enforcement is involved.
"I didn't think it was going to be that big of a deal," said another woman, who also asked not to be identified, but says she went to Nielson for laser tattoo removal.
She said of getting her tattoo, "We picked one out off the wall, no particular significance, as college kids are known to do.
Now that she's a business professional in her 40s, she wanted "Betty Boop" erased from her leg.
She balked at the thousand dollars her dermatologist wanted for four laser sessions.
"So, when I saw the Groupon for around $150 for the two sessions, I thought I would try it," she said.
The first time hurt so much she waited six months to go back.
Two days after that second treatment, she saw this at work: "I looked down at my ankle at one point right before lunch, and the oozing from the blister had actually gone through my jeans, through my socks, through my leather boots and stained a ring on the outside of the boot."
A drop-in clinic urged her to go straight to the emergency room for intravenous antibiotics.
Nielson offered different advice over the phone: "He said it was a normal reaction and that he thought I was allergic to the ink, and that perhaps I should just come into his office and he could write me a prescription for antibiotics."
She ignored Nielson. The hospital diagnosed it as a cellulitis skin infection: "She said it looked like an aggressive use of a laser, and that it was actually burns."
"Wow. You went to get Betty Boop taken off your leg, and you end up with serious burns over that?" Cole asked. "What do you make of that now?"
"I'm sorry I ever went there," the patient responded. "I'm sorry I didn't go to the dermatologist I knew and trusted."
When she posted on Yelp with photos, she says Nielson's office offered to pay her medical bills if she took down her review. They never came to an agreement.
In Pennsylvania, laser surgery can be done by a technician under a doctor's supervision.
We were asking Nielson about his laser work when his wife, Marie, called the cops and got confrontational.
Cole: "You said it was an allergic reaction..."
Nielson: "That's right."
Cole: "…to ink. Sir…"
Nielson: "That's right."
Cole: "…she had her tattoo done two decades ago. Why wouldn't she have the allergic reaction then?"
At this point, our camera was hit with a mop stick several times.
Later, we tried to ask Nielson more questions.
Cole: "Listen, but I want to ask you about this."
Nielson: "You're sensitized the first three times…"
Cole: "What's going on with your hand here?"
Nielson: "Well, what's going on with your hand?"
Cole: "OK, OK, stop, stop stop."
Nielson: "Back off, back off! I answered your questions."
Police showed up, and the Nielsons went back to moving out.
They claim the lipo patient we spoke with extorted them over online reviews.
That patient has now turned to police and the city's prosecutor and says he's fearful of retaliation from Nielson or others.
"Why is it that the state isn't taking action quicker?" he asked. "Four months! Why, why isn't — why didn't the police go and arrest him right away?"
The male lipo patient in our story is a relative of a FOX 29 employee.
Nielson's wife emailed us to say that Dr. Crews performs or is responsible for all liposuction procedures, but did not deny that her husband does them, Cole reported.