Christine and Johnnie Hughes had a love affair that only grew with time.
"When I would go pick him up at the power plant, he just had the sexiest walk you'd ever seen!" Christine Hughes said about her husband, Johnnie. "I just loved to watch him and say ‘wow that's my husband’!"
Then Johnnie was diagnosed with cancer.
"You're so sick. You want so much to be a miracle out there. You would do anything,” Christine said.
Johnnie Hughes was dying when he started receiving treatments from Lynette Blake, a med spa owner in Stuart.
"Her claim was that she could cure the cancer,” Christine said. “Everything she had, was supposedly to help get rid of the cancer."
Christine says Blake claimed to be a cancer survivor herself and a nurse by trade. She even had diplomas to prove her credentials.
"She was such a good liar,” Christine said. “She could look you in the eye, not flinch, not bat an eye."
Over the course of several weeks, Christine says Blake treated Johnnie eight times, placed him on a 21 day diet and injected him with a series of unknown IV drugs.
"It was hurting him more than it was helping him," Christine recounted.
Johnnie, it turns out, wasn’t Blake’s only believer.
Police interviewed others who went to Blake’s Back to Eden Wellness Spa for treatment.
“All on the way home I was saying, there's something not right, there's just something not right with this doctor,” said one former patient to Martin County Sheriff’s Office detectives in recorded interviews.
“I wasn’t sure, was she a real doctor, doctor,” said another patient.
Contact 5 Investigators watched hours of those recorded interviews including one with an employee of Blake’s.
“So, you thought Dr. Blake was a real doctor?” the detective asked.
“Yes,” the employee answered.
The Martin County Sheriff’s Office spent a year investigating Blake. Blake is now awaiting trial, facing more than 50 charges including performing medical procedures without a license.
“Everything she said she was, she was not,” said Martin County Sheriff William D. Snyder.
He calls it the most egregious med spa case in his agency’s history.
“What this lady did is so shocking and so disturbing that I think when this case finally does get to a jury, people are going to be pretty surprised at the depth of which she deceived people who are in their most vulnerable state," said Sheriff Snyder.
The Unlicensed Problem
Med spas are a hybrid between a doctor’s office and a day spa. As med spas grow in popularity, area police are seeing more patients with problems.
Some experts call it a dirty little secret often hidden behind the med spa’s promise of beauty, health and well-being. They fear it is more common than what makes headlines.
“Bad things happen. People do bad things. It’s true,” said Jeff Cohen, a health care attorney who helps med spa owners set up their business. "People that aren't licensed health care professionals that own these medical spas, they don't have as much to lose."
Cohen says that can leave the inexperienced performing the kind of medical procedures only licensed professionals are supposed to do.
Goldman’s Beauty & Balance
Police in Boca Raton had undercover cameras rolling while investigating a med spa called Beauty & Balance in Boca Raton.
Owner Sheri Goldman had her story down.
“We’re reputable,” Goldman says to an undercover officer on the video. “We do all kinds of wellness here.”
In the recording, Goldman made claims about her experience.
"I'm an OR (Operating Room) nurse,” she says in the video. “I’ve been working for plastic surgeons for 15-16 years."
Both were lies, but multiple arrest documents show Goldman’s lack of medical experience never kept her from performing Botox injections and other procedures on her clients.
Goldman is now serving an 18 month sentence in state prison for practicing health care without a license.
She’s one of more than 2100 people statewide disciplined by the state’s Department of Health since 2008 for practicing without a license. Those disciplinary records include people not working at med spas but in other health care fields.
The state believes there are more doing the same thing at med spas who haven’t been caught. An investigation begins only if a complaint is filed.
"We want the consumers to be aware that there are people who probably or may not be qualified to work in these facilities," said Tim O’Connor with the Palm Beach County Health Department.
Lynette Blake is scheduled for trial later this year. At a recent court hearing, she refused to answer questions from Contact 5 Investigators Katie LaGrone. She shielded her face from our camera.
As for Christine, she’s learning to live life without her beloved Johnnie.
"I have nightmares because I don't think I did enough," Christine said. "I believe
Johnnie died from cancer in June 2013, about a month after his treatments with Blake ended.
"He waited and I know he waited for our anniversary,” said Christine. “15 years."
Christine will be in court when Blake faces trial.
She has harsh words for Blake.
"I hate you. I hate you," Christine said with tears forming in her eyes.
What you can do
Before you book your next med spa appointment, experts say to ask questions.
You should ask who is performing the procedure you’re interested in receiving. You can look up the person online to make sure they have a license.