Psych Crime Reporter

August 8, 2012

Disgraced criminal psychologist Vito Zepinic attempts to redefine response to life’s troubles as mental disorder

Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) recently received a press release with the title “New, Serious Psych Disorder, Its Nature and Treatment in Book”.  It was issued for psychologist Vito Zepinic’s new book, The Self and Complex Trauma.

“Complex Trauma,” says Zepinic “develops when the individual is subject to repeated traumas…and is incapable of escaping it for an extended period of time.”  Zepinic knows a lot about this from personal experience. He most likely made up this “new” disorder as a way to position himself as a mental health expert, since he is unable to obtain employment due to his own dishonesty (more on this later).

Dr. Zepinic says that this disorder is “serious”.  Of course, anyone who has ever gone through tough times–deaths of loved ones, reversals of fortune, broken releationships, disappointed expectations–knows how serious life feels during those times.

But that is not new and it’s certainly not a mental disorder.

Life can be traumatic. How you respond to that trauma is proof of your character but it’s not a mental disorder.

Life can also be full of satisfaction and even joy. CCHR suspects that Dr. Zepinic might be working on another book about a “new” disorder in people who are living quite happily. recently discovered the “new” syndrome of Compulsive Labeling Disorder. The sufferers of this “new, serious” disorder are uniformly mental health “professionals.”

About Zepinic:

Vitomir Zepinic left his native Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s for Australia, where he first registered as a psychologist in 1994. In May 1998, he applied to the Australian Medical Council (AMC) for assessment of his specialist qualifications in psychiatry. The AMC required him to fulfill a period of supervised clinical practice before being eligible to sit for his examination as a psychiatrist. In February 2000, Zepinic filed an application with the Queensland Medical Board for a conditional medical registration, which would allow him to fill a training position in psychiatry. He applied for and was granted a renewal of his conditional registration in May 2001 to continue specialist training as “Senior Medical Officer – Psychiatry.” However, in March 2001, the AMC advised the medical Board that Zepinic was not entitled to advanced standing in medicine/psychiatry as his post-graduate training was in the non-medical subject of psychotherapy.

The reason for the Australian authorities’ reassessment of Zepinic’s qualifications was acquisition of information from the institution in Yugoslavia from which Zepinic had graduated, which had not been available earlier due to the conflicts in Yugoslavia at the time. The Queensland Medical Board cancelled Zepinic’s registration on May 14 2002 noting that he did not have a “valid registrable undergraduate qualification in medicine.”

Zepinic had falsely claimed to have medical degrees from Sarajevo and Belgrade universities and had misled the Medical Boards of New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland, Australia. The Australian licensing authority’s Tribunal’s decision document lists 19 separate occasions between 1996 and 2009 when Zepinic misrepresented his qualifications to licensing boards/councils, prospective employers, a court of law and a publishing company, among others.

He was convicted August 18, 2008 on six counts of having misrepresented himself as a medical doctor. The Psychologists Tribunal of New South Wales subsequently banned Zepinic from practicing for five years. The decision was upheld on appeal on August 12, 2010. He may not reapply for licensure until August 2015.

On March 1, 2010, Zepinic resigned from his position as senior lecturer in psychiatry in the Unit for Social and Community Psychiatry at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry (a position he obtained by misrepresenting his credentials) after school authorities confronted him about his 2008 criminal conviction.


August 7, 2012

UCLA psychiatrist Alexander Bystritsky sued over patient’s psych drug death

Filed under: depression and bipolar,mental health,murder and manslaughter,psychiatrist — Psych Crime Reporter @ 8:06 pm

When former model and philanthropist Phyllis Harvey died last year at the age of 59, little note was taken. Brief paid obituaries appeared in Los Angeles and her hometown paper in North Carolina. There was no mention of how she died. Nothing was said about her struggle with alcoholism and mental illness. And there was no reference to one of the final projects she helped fund with nearly a half million dollars.

Those details now figure prominently in a medical board complaint and wrongful death lawsuit claiming her psychiatrist coaxed $490,000 in research funding from her while she was under powerful doses of psychotropic drugs that eventually killed her.

The suit filed on behalf of Brian Harvey by attorney Daniel M. Hodes accuses University of California, Los Angeles psychiatrist Dr. Alexander Bystritsky of causing Phyllis Harvey’s death with a dangerous combination of drugs that altered her heart rhythm.

Hodes says that Mrs. Harvey was hospitalized several times for heart abnormalities associated with drugs, and that emergency room doctors discontinued her medications only to have Bystritsky resume giving them to her when she was discharged.

Brian Harvey earned a fortune by selling an invention for coating electronic wires with recycled metal from beer cans. Following the sale of his company, he and his wife formed the Brian and Phyllis Harvey foundation to fund scholarships and other donations. The lawsuit claims Bystritsky knew of the couple’s wealth and charitable giving and insinuated himself into their lives with house calls, long chats and email with Phyllis Harvey while treating her undiagnosed mental illness. He allegedly touted his own credentials and convinced her to give large donations to research a device that might cure her.

The claim that a physician solicited research funds from a patient provides a new wrinkle in the debate over the relationship between doctors, wealthy patients and the overuse of prescription drugs.

“Was he continuing to treat her with these high-powered drugs to keep her as a patient?” said James J. Walter, a professor at the Center on Bioethics at Loyola Law School. “Every bioethicist would say that practice should be discouraged.”

The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court claims wrongful death due to medical negligence, fraud, fraudulent concealment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Numerous phone messages left for Bystritsky and his lawyer by The Associated Press were not returned.
The suit also names the UC Board of Regents as defendants, noting that they sent glowing letters of thanks to the Harveys for their donations.

A spokeswoman for UCLA said she could not discuss medical specifics because of privacy concerns but said UCLA will contest the lawsuit.

“The UCLA health care system is committed to the highest standards of patient care and safety,” said spokeswoman Roxanne Moster.

“This is a regrettable and unfortunate case for everyone involved and we extend our deepest sympathies to members of the Harvey family for their loss.”

Bystritsky began treating Harvey in 2004, five years after she was diagnosed as possibly suffering from bipolar disorder, early dementia or schizophrenia, according to documents in the case.

None of those diagnoses was ever fully confirmed by tests and Bystritsky soon had her on a regimen of several psychotropic drugs including Seroquel, a powerful anti-psychotic, said John Harwell, a lawyer who filed a complaint with the Medical Board of California last November on behalf of Brian Harvey.

The lawyers contend that drug, which is known to alter heart rhythm, killed her when she died in her bed April 5, 2011.

“Mrs. Harvey died from sudden cardiac death,” Harwell told the medical board, “the very kind of consequence warned against by the FDA in its required Black Box Seroquel warnings, the ones Dr. Bystritsky either ignored or of which he was ignorant.”

The medical board declined to comment on whether a complaint is pending before it.

Harvey had overcome alcoholism when she was younger, but she relapsed after her mother’s death in 2009, Harwell said. During one of several hospital admissions, she told a doctor she was drinking a bottle of liquor a day along with the sedative Ativan, a potentially lethal combination.

In the two months before her death, the lawyers said she was receiving nine different drugs including benzodiazepine sedatives, Invega, a drug for schizophrenia, and Seroquel which was prescribed by Bystritsky at 180 tablets in 17 days.

Heavy doses of drugs in large volumes led to hospitalizations for overdoses of benzodiazepines, leading to falls, disorientation and intoxication, Harwell said. Emergency room doctors discontinued her medications, but Bystritsky resumed giving them when she was discharged. At times, he said, she became delirious and had hallucinations that bugs were crawling on her skin.

The lawsuit claims that the psychiatrist told Harvey he might be able to cure her with a device he invented, but that he said he needed more money to continue research on the machine.

An Internet search shows that Bysrtritsky, who heads the anxiety disorders program at UCLA, was a partner in a privately held company called Brainsonix which is collaborating with UCLA and Harvard Medical School on an ultrasound device to modulate brain function and treat brain disorders including depression, autism, Parkinson’s Disease, epilepsy, obesity and other ailments.

His list of credentials shows that he was trained in neuroscience, psychopharmacology and psychiatry at Pavlov Medical Institute in Russia, New York University and UCLA. He also is a visiting full professor at Harvard University School of Medicine.

Harvey declined to seek criminal charges against Bystritsky because that might have required proving he intended to harm his patient, attorney Hodes said.

Experts said the case would be divided into two issues — the standard of care provided and ethical considerations involved in soliciting donations from a patient.

If true, “It would be a horrible indictment of the fund raising efforts of UCLA,” said Donna Darling, a former New York assistant district attorney who now represents plaintiffs in medical malpractice suits. “They should have known she was a patient.”

Attorney Harland Braun, who has represented doctors in malpractice cases, said Bystritsky may raise a strong defense that he was trying to help a gravely ill patient and had no intent to harm her. The fact that money was donated to his research, he said, suggests no desire for personal enrichment.

“Jurors have a tendency to trust doctors,” said Braun, “and If you can’t show the doctor had a motive to do harm, jurors will side with him.”

Source: Linda Deutsch, “Philanthropist’s death sparks unusual lawsuit,” Associated Press, August 4, 2012.

January 13, 2010

Washington psychiatrist Charles Huffine charged by state for neglect in adolescent substance abuse case; disciplined in 2007 teen case

On November 30, 2009, the Washington Department of Health (DoH) issued a Statement of Charges against psychiatrist Charles W. Huffine for unprofessional conduct.

According to the document, Huffine provided treatment to a teenage male with a known history of substance abuse and a possible suicidal attempt, as well as considerable present-time substance abuse, including alcohol, marijuana, methadone, OxyContin and LSD.

Among the state’s allegations is that, despite an OxyContin overdose and the patient’s admissions of other substance use, escalating family turmoil instigated by the patient, increasing erratic and violent behavior, an auto accident and two citations (one for Minor in Possession), Huffine never pursued a urinalysis or other laboratory tests to determine what exactly the patient was taking or how much; never suggested to the patient that he stop using; did nothing to monitor the patient’s use; did not adequately assess the impact of the patient’s substance abuse on his mental health; did not inform the patient’s parents regarding the serious nature of the patient’s substance abuse and did not significantly involve the family in the patient’s treatment.

Further, in response to the patient’s mother’s concerns about her son’s behavior and obvious signs of drug abuse, Huffine did not inform the mother of the “serious level of danger to her son and others. Instead, he reassured the mother…suggested that he mother should not be so sure about whether the drugs were producing the patient’s…behavior. He urged her to look beyond the drug issues and see the behavior as complex and affected by psychiatric issues.” He told the mother that her son was “not ready” to stop using drugs.

Lastly, despite the known and very serious substance abuse, Huffine did not recommend more intense substance abuse treatment and on many occasions actually recommended against immediate inpatient treatment.

Ultimately, the boy was found un-arousable from sleep and was taken to the hospital where it was found he’d overdosed on 180 mg of methadone. He soon after entered substance abuse treatment and did not return to Huffine’s treatment. 

The DoH records for Huffine also contain a January 2007 Order in which Huffine was censured for unprofessional conduct because he “crossed professional boundaries” with a 16-year-old female patient in that he “created an unhealthy dependency in wherein the patient focused on her relationship with Huffine to the exclusion of relationships with her parents and boyfriend…substituted himself as a father figure for the patient, created role confusion for the patient and was divisive in the patient’s relationship with her parents.”

Source: Statement of Charges in the Matter of Charles W. Huffine, M.D., License No. MD00013207, Case No. M2009-349, Washington Dept. of Health Medical Quality Assurance Commission, filed November 30, 2009 and Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Final Order in the Matter of Charles W. Huffine, M.D., License No. MD00013207, Docket No. 05-05-A-1013MD, Washington Dept. of Health Medical Quality Assurance Commission, filed January 29, 2007.

December 29, 2009

Florida psychologist Adam Feder gets six years prison in drug death of former patient-girlfriend

Filed under: crime and fraud,depression and bipolar,psychologist,sexual abuse — Psych Crime Reporter @ 4:12 am

On December 22, Miami psychologist Adam Feder, 42, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 2006 death of his former girlfriend. Feder failed to call 911 after the 20-year-old girl—a former patient—took a lethal dose of the painkiller Oxycodone from an illegal stash inside Feder’s home. Reports following Feder’s 2008 arrest indicate that he had broken off their romance but gave the distraught girl more than 100 times the safe dosage of the drug. After ingesting the dose, the girl lay writhing on Feder’s bed for 24 hours before Feder finally called 911 for help, according to prosecutors. Authorities believe he neglected to summon help sooner because he did not want his illegal drug stash to be discovered. The death, originally ruled a suicide was later reclassified a homicide. Feder was arrested in February 2008 regarding the girl’s death and again in June 2008 on charges of drug trafficking. Police stated that Feder, who cannot write prescriptions, used doctors’ prescription pads to obtain the drugs. “He just violated every imaginable moral, ethical and administrative rule that exists,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle said. “She was 19 years old and she went to him to seek counseling. You had someone that was very vulnerable.” Feder was sentenced to six years in prison and four years probation and has forfeited his license to practice psychology. He is also being sued by the girl’s family.

Source: David Ovalle, “Psychologist pleads guilty in lover/ex-patient’s death,” Miami Herald, December 23, 2009 and David Ovalle, “Drug charges filed against psychologist,” Miami Herald, June 16, 2008.

November 12, 2009

Washington counselor Barbara Allen’s license suspended following conviction for identity theft

On August 3, 2009, the Washington Department of Health (DOH) indefinitely suspended registered counselor Barbara J. Allen for unprofessional conduct.

In April 2009, the DOH charged Allen, noting that though her counseling registration expired on September 11, 2007, she worked as a bookkeeper and care provider for a vulnerable adult between 2003 and 2006 and served as the client’s durable power of attorney, which gave her access to the client’s funds.

During this time, Allen opened up a credit card account in the client’s name and had the bill sent to her own address.  She used the credit card for her own personal benefit.

In July 2008, Allen was convicted of Second Degree Identity Theft and Forgery (both felonies), based on her financial exploitation of the above-referenced client.

The DOH served Allen with a statement of charges in April 2009, to which she failed to respond and thus, by default was suspended.

She will be required to pay a $5,000 fine prior to requesting reinstatement of her counseling registration.


Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Final Order of Default in the Matter of Barbara J. Allen, registration no. RC00051196, case no. M2009-281, Washington State Department of Health, August 3, 2009.

October 20, 2009

State revokes Geoffrey Chipps’ licenses for sexual misconduct

On August 28, 2009, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) revoked both Geoffrey J.L. Chipps’ licensed mental health counselor credential and his chemical dependency professional credential for sexual misconduct and unprofessional conduct.

The DOH’s document details Chipps’ treatment of four females, all of whom presented testimony against Chipps at a disciplinary hearing:

  • Patient A began therapy with Chipps in December 2004 for “marriage issues: communication.”  During therapy, the patient dealt with issues of sexual abuse and molestation, among other things.  In June or July 2005, Chipps “hugged Patient A and held her to him…kissed her on pulled up her shirt and bra…unzipped his pants” and had Patient A perform oral sex on him.  Regular sexual contact followed, before, after or during counseling sessions and in the patient’s home, at parks and in Chipps’ office.
  • Patient B began counseling with Chipps for problems stemming from alcohol abuse in June 2005.  Chipps hugged her (described as a whole-body hug with a rocking motion) and kissed her on the lips.
  • Patient C and her husband began counseling with Chipps for marital issues in September 2005.  He met with C alone on three occasions.  Chipps hugged her (again, described as whole-body hug) and tickled her.  She advised him to stop but he did it again during the next session.  He also made inappropriate comments to C, telling her he had been accused by a client of inappropriate behavior and also that one client had attempted suicide and was suing him.  He also told C that he and his own wife had no relationship with each other.
  • Patient D began counseling with Chipps’ for spousal abuse in October 2006.  The DOH’s document states that during their sessions, Chipps made comments to the patient such as that he’d “like to take you over my knee and spank you,”  “I like it when you lean forward” and “You and I are going to have an affair.” Further, he hugged her twice after one session and held her tight.

Though recently corrected, as late as mid-October 2009, Chipps was still referring to himself on his website as a “Certified Chemical Dependency Counselor Level II (CCDC)”–a patent falsehood, in conflict with both the above-referenced disciplinary order and the Washington Department of Health’s “Provider Credential Search” results for Chipps.

October 1, 2009

What does this psychiatrist do to earn $179,000 a year? (Apparently, not much.)

On August 5, 2009, New York psychiatrist Royle Miralles was suspended with pay from his $179,000 a year position as staff psychiatrist for Wayne County Behavioral Health Network after his superiors discovered (courtesy of a local television news investigation) that he had been disciplined by the state medical licensing board for numerous instances of negligence, incompetence and recordkeeping failures.  Miralles never reported the disciplinary action to his employer.

Miralles is noted as being the highest-paid employee in Wayne County.

What does a county psychiatrist do to make that kind of money?

Perhaps only Miralles and his patients know the answer to that question for sure.  What is known is what Miralles doesn’t do.  According to disciplinary documents acquired by Psych Crime Reporter from the New York Board for Professional Medical Conduct, Miralles did not do the following standard (and sometimes critical) tests or examinations and/or other medically-required tasks with regard to seven patients:

  • Failed to obtain and/or document patients’ informed consent (patient’s cognizant understanding of the benefits and liabilities of the suggested method of treatment, applicable alternative treatments as well as no treatment) for the drugs he prescribed
  • Failed to adequately monitor lithium levels (failure to do this can result in liver damage and/or failure)
  • Failed to conduct adequate assessments and/or document adequate assessments for tardive dyskinesia (a serious potential side effect of antipsychotic drugs, resulting in abnormal involuntary movements of the face, tongue, limbs and trunk)
  • Neglected to obtain neurologic consultations for patients risking tardive dyskinesia
  • Failed to adequately monitor blood sugar levels, lipid profiles, weight and/or girth during treatment with atypical antipsychotic drugs (which carry known dangerous side effects of abnormal weight gain, blood sugar abnormalities and diabetes)
  • Failed to monitor kidney function and coagulation status prior to and during treatment with a particular drug (the use of which requires such tests)
  • Failed to maintain accurate medical records

This is just a partial list of Miralles’ failures to uphold the standard of care, for which his license was placed on probation for five years with terms and conditions.

$179,000 is a lot of county money to pay someone to neglect basic patient health and safety requirements.

So what do psychiatrists do to earn their pay?

A 2007 review by Citizens Commission on Human Rights, of U.S. Department of Justice inspections of public psychiatric facilities revealed that six out of seven of the institutions investigated engaged in some degree in the use of seclusion and/or restraint as a first line of treatment (which it is not) and/or the strikingly high use of pro re nata (Latin for “as needed”) medications as a “chemical restraint” for the convenience of the hospital staff.

What else do psychiatrists do to earn those big paychecks?  A 1997 study revealed that 10% of all psychiatrists admitted to sexually abusing their patients; 80% admitted to being repeat offenders.

If our counties and states really want to balance their budgets and have money available for constructive and community-desirable programs, they need to look at how they might be throwing their citizens’ money away on psychiatrists like Miralles, who take the money but neglect the patients, often to the point of sickness, disfigurement and death.

About Kansas psychiatrist Douglas Geenens

This is an overview, in no particular order, of what is publicly known about Douglas Geenens:

Douglas Lee Geenens, D.O., is a Kansas City area physician who specializes in psychiatry and child psychiatry.  He has operated mainly in the Overland Park area of Kansas but also was also licensed in Missouri until October 2007.

The Kansas Board of Healing Arts suspended his medical license for six months on December 11, 2004 with all but seven days stayed.  The reason for this disciplinary action was that Dr. Geenens engaged in a social and then sexual relationship with a former patient–the wife of a colleague who had come to him for treatment of “depression and marital issues,” according to the Kansas Board’s Order, which you can see here.

Dr. Geenens married this former patient in Key West, Florida on December 15, 2007.

Dr. Geenens was under investigation by the Missouri State Board of Registration for the Healing Arts but quietly “retired” his license in October 2007 when it was due for renewal.  This, according to an official letter from the Board, “closed the Board’s case” against  him.

Dr. Geenens was the treating psychiatrist of 13-year-old Matthew Miller, who hanged himself after one week on the Geenens-prescribed antidepressant Zoloft in July 1997.  Zoloft is manufactured by the the Pfizer pharmaceutical company.   According to a deposition Geenens gave in a lawsuit filed by Miller’s parents against Pfizer, Geenens was (and possibly still is) a highly paid Pfizer speaker, frequently given promotional talks on Zoloft.    Story here (particularly paragraph 28).

Some time between December 2004 and present, the Kansas Board of Healing Arts re-opened an investigation of Dr. Geenens, due in part perhaps to complaints filed by Citizens Commission on Human Rights, citing his ongoing relationship with the former patient as a continuing violation of rules and regulations governing the conduct of physicians.

On October 29, 2008, the Kansas Board of Healing Arts filed a 23-count disciplinary Petition against Dr. Geenens, seeking to suspend or revoke his license for numerous alleged violations,    20 of which state that he prescribed psychiatric drugs to patients and non-patients without sufficient examinations.   It also cites “boundary issues” in connection with improper relationships with patients.   In one case, the Petition states that Geenens told a patient, “You need to get a divorce, move to the Plaza and we could have breakfast together.”  The document has never been posted on the Board of Healing Arts’ website, but here is their press release about it.

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