Beverly Hills 6750, a local high-end aesthetic and cosmetic surgery clinic, has come under a cloud since December 2007.
First, there was the word war between the clinic's then president, David Bunevacz, and its group of investors, which ended in a media war plus charges and countercharges in court.
Then followed the exposé that the clinic, which was launched on the power of being the only affiliate outside the United States of America of the "famous Beverly Hills Surgical Institute," may have misrepresented itself because, in fact, there is no such U.S.-based Institute.
PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal), which broke both stories, made several attempts to get Beverly Hills 6750's side, through email and phone calls, as early as December 2007.
The most pressing issue for the clinic was: Why did it sell itself as an affiliate of a non-existent U.S. surgical institute? Its entire marketing strategy, its media pronouncements, and even its own website harked to its connections with the Beverly Hills Surgical Institute, which was supposed to be "favored by the rich and famous in Hollywood."
Yet PEP's own investigation showed that the Institute had stopped being a big company in 1999, and had in fact totally closed down by early 2006. How did Beverly Hills 6750 explain the fact that when it was launched in the Philippines in late 2006, it was still laying claim to being an affiliate?
Unfortunately, the clinic's management studiously evaded our repeated requests for either an interview or a statement, or both.
Then on February 4, 2008, or more than two months after PEP began asking for an interview with Beverly Hills 6750, the clinic's general manager, Suzette Hahn-Lopez, called PEP. The message was that the clinic now wanted to talk.
Four days later, on February 8, PEP editor-in-chief Jo-Ann Maglipon and managing editor Karen Pagsolingan went to the Beverly Hills 6750 office in Ayala 6750, Makati City, to meet with the clinic's representatives: managing director Dr. Eduardo "Ed" Santos, cosmetic gynecologist Dr. Abe Marinduque, and general manager Suzette Hahn-Lopez.
In the three-hour interview, the clinic representatives admitted that they had indeed avoided all calls from PEP.
Dr. Santos, who used to be the clinic's medical director, also admitted that they had not been prepared to give a statement at the time. He said they felt ready to speak only after they had put together their legal case against David Bunevacz.
"You know, that's entertainment," Dr. Santos explained. "That's their [the couple David and Jessica Bunevacz] playing field. We don't want to be drawn into that playing field. And since we're a professional organization, we want to respond in a professional manner. And that professional manner is legal.
"Since we filed our first case [against the couple] about last week [February 1], that was the time we felt we can come out. Because our response is legal, and we're filing a second case on Monday [February 11]."
Then toward the latter part of the interview, Dr. Santos, who was at first formal and guarded, began to recall those "difficult" days with a little more color and detail. He said that when he read PEP's (January 7) letter to the clinic stating that its investigation revealed that the so-called Beverly Hills Surgical Institute did not have a valid address in Beverly Hills and did not have even a single telephone number in the entire United States, his reaction was:
"Oh, my gosh! Oh, my gosh! P----na! P----na! Sh*t! Sh*t!," he recalls saying. "And there was a patient at the next door who could be hearing me. That's how devastating this news to us was! The first time we received it, sabi ko, ‘What's this? Ano ba 'to?' We really did not know it. It caught us completely flatfooted."
Suzette Lopez, who was already the clinic's general manager at the time, also recalled how PEP's findings affected her: "This is my honest opinion. When you call me and tell me, you know, I don't wanna tell anything. I cannot say anything about David directly. So I denied anything about it. I don't want to say anything bad about David. I didn't know. As far as he was concerned, he was good a person, he was the president, he was the one who runs this company. I didn't know anything about the board, okay?
"So what will I tell you guys? I didn't even know what you were saying. So when I sat down with the board, I even asked them, ‘What are we dealing with here? I want it black and white. You show me proof. I am the manager here, I need to know.' Ay, ayun na yun.
"I couldn't also jump to any conclusion....And I am not just speaking about myself...all of us, all the doctors here, of course. Hindi naman basta sabihin nila, ‘Nanloloko si David,' maniniwala na kaagad kami. You know, we're all educated people in here, we have to see black and white. We need proofs."
Dr. Marinduque was equally aghast. He said he had had a successful medical practice in the U.S. for 22 years before he was invited to join Beverly Hills 6750. He added that he not only joined the latter's medical staff, he invested his lifetime's savings in the clinic. With the questions about the history of the clinic mounting, and the answers falling into place, he said they were all caught in a dilemma.
"We agonize," the mild-mannered doctor said. "Every day, we agonize if we're going to come out. And tell them...tell the clients. We even said, 'We owe our clients the truth.' And so finally, when we had our legal basis for all of these things, that's when we started coming out. And let me tell you, some of these people invested here, like me especially, invested their retirement in this company, so it was doubly emotional for me. You know that this happened, that I was misled by David."
DEVASTATING DISCOVERIES. Dr. Ed Santos and Dr. Abe Marinduque said that, following the PEP inquiry, they proceeded to seek help from trusted friends in the U.S. "to investigate for us."
According to Dr. Santos, last January 15 he sent an email to Beth Isidro, his "contact in the U.S." He read to us his email: "I need to know if BHSI still exists. If it does still exist, are they actually aware of our relationship? Or is it now a dissolved corporation? Since when?"
The full report on his queries, he continued, was completed on January 25.
An email that Dr. Santos says is the abbreviated report of their researcher noted:
(1) The "800 numbers set up under the business name BHSI" and the www.weknow.beauty.com, BHSI's website, are "not connected to any legal business entity."
(2) Inquiries with California State Chamber of Commerce and Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce affirmed that BHSI is "not registered."
(3) Brea Chamber of Commerce, however, included BHSI in its listing. The company name was "Beverly Hills 6750," under the "Plastic Surgeon" category, with address at "405 South State College Blvd., Brea CA 92821," and phone number "714-671-0555." The said list also cited a "Tom Oseransky" as the contact person with email address email@example.com.
But upon verifying the veracity of the business's contact details, it was discovered that a "Rica Donna Beauty Salon has been using the said address and phone number for the past three years or longer." The researcher of Beverly Hills 6750 surmised: "Tom Oseransky registered BHSI with Brea Chamber of Commerce using the beauty salon address and phone number.
(4) There was no license ever issued to BHSI or any business entity close to such name. To the Business Licensing Department, BHSI is non-existent or may be illegally operating without the required license."
(5) "The copy of the MOA [Memorandum of Agreement] received by PEP stated a different address for Oseransky [2236 S. Barrington Avenue, Los Angeles, California, USA, 90064, as stated in the Franchise Agreement mentioned by PEP in previous article].
Their U.S.-based researcher concluded: "BHSI does not exist as a legal business entity and probably never existed as such. We have been dreadfully misled by its alleged reputable, celebrated, and esteemed existence and operation in California, as well as the existence of a legit and valid affiliation with such a business entity. It is nothing more than a cheap 800 number and ambiguous website."
Dr. Santos noted that on February 1, or barely a week after they received the results of their own investigation, Beverly Hills 6750 filed its first estafa suit against David Bunevacz. That was also when, be repeated, "We felt ready to face the press."
BLAMING BUNEVACZ. Beverly Hills 6750 managing director Dr. Santos has placed the blame squarely on the company's former president, David Bunevacz.
"Obviously," he told PEP on February 8, "for us, there was a criminal mind behind it, so to speak. There was an obvious deception attempt because David had tried to work with the Beverly Hills Medical Group [a different local clinic, which also has "Beverly Hills" in its name]. That did not materialize. And when that did not happen, he flew to the States, supposedly to look for another partner. And when he had come back a week later, he said that he had found a partner [the Beverly Hills Surgical Institute]. And this was it."
In 2006 and 2007, David Bunevacz, a Filipino-Hungarian decathlete raised in California, and his wife Jessica Rodriguez, a former starlet and a talent manager, were the public face of Beverly Hills 6750. The public may even have believed that the couple "owned" the clinic.
In truth, Dr. Santos said, the clinic was owned by "10 investors." As Dr. Santos explained it: "That would be myself and, of course, the investors. Two sets of investors, one group is based here, primarily based here. [It's] a group of Filipino-Chinese businessmen. Another group represents some interests in the United States, including Dr. Abe, who at that time was in the United States."
Additional PEP research showed that some of these investors include Juanito Ho, Cedric Lee, Louie Kaw, Dominic Sytin, and Tyrone Ong.
Of David's role in the company, Dr. Santos would explain: "He had the sales pitch. He had a concept. He's the proponent of this project. So, he was able to essentially convince a group of investors to come in. Again, that was his sales pitch. He convinced me to join his team."
The link to the Filipino-Chinese group was also David, according to Dr. Santos. The doctor added that the investors gave David a 10-percent share in the clinic. He did not have to put out any money.
Dr. Marinduque explained it further: "He was an industrial partner because he conceived the company and the concept, so he was given equity in the company."
Asked what David's salary was, Dr. Santos said, "He had a representation allowance of fifty thousand pesos a month and his profitability would have actually kicked in at the time the return of investment could have been completed, which he predicted to be at 1.3 years. And thereafter, I'm not sure what the contract stipulated, but he would have received something."
TRUSTING DAVID. Asked to describe how Beverly Hills 6750 was set up, Dr. Ed Santos replied: "A lot of it was really based on trust."
Such was the level of trust, Dr. Santos admitted, that David was made to take charge of the company and its finances. He was made the sole signatory in all of the clinic's financial transactions.
"Again, because it was on the level of trust," stressed Dr. Santos, to which Suzette Lopez and Dr. Abe Marinduque both gave their assent.
PEP asked: Are Dr. Santos and his fellow investors now saying that they, all educated doctors or hard-nosed businessmen or both, never once questioned David's facts and figures? That they never asked to speak to their partners at the American institute? That they never communicated with the institute at any time during the start-up period and through more than 15 months of operation?
In silence, the two doctors and Suzette shook their heads to mean that, indeed, they never once did any of these things.
When PEP noted that the only way the public would believe this, is if the public were to believe that the investors were all naïve, Dr. Santos said that would be about right: "You might say we were naïve, or stupid, but that's the way it happened. We were stupid, but we weren't liars."
The doctor, a University of the Philippines graduate, reiterated that "trust" played a big role: "[The business] was built on a very strong concept [but it] was also built on a very strong level of trust. You know, as a matter of fact, one of our investors in the U.S. asked, ‘Ed, what do you know of David?' And I said, ‘You know, if you want to invest you have to approach this investment as, uh, as an investment, because I can't really vouch for him, because I don't know him.'
"That's what I told him [the investor]... When you come here you make a decision first ‘coz I cannot vouch for him. ‘Coz David and I were just really also introduced by a pastor.'"
PEP asked: Did Beverly Hills 6750 at least send representatives to its partner clinic in the U.S.?
"He did not," answered Dr. Santos, referring to David. "There were two occasions, actually [when we attempted]...One of our plastic surgeons, our senior surgeon, went to the United States, met up with David, and he [the senior surgeon] was insisting, ‘Why don't you bring me to Beverly Hills Surgical Institute? That, I want to observe.' [David] always evaded the question. And he never brought him [the senior surgeon]. That was last year.
"Again, the request of [one of our] anesthesiologists was [in the] last quarter of last year. You know, ‘Bring us to Beverly Hills Surgical Institute. We want to observe also how they do their anesthesia work.' Again, he [David] had no answer."
Meantime, in an email to PEP last December 27, David had insisted that the Institute had trained at least one of Beverly Hills 6750's doctors: "Tom Oseransky and Dr. Daniel Shin had three or four clinics running at the same time at the time we signed our agreement. We had even sent one of our dermas to their clinic to train."
(Tom Oseransky is the person who signed the 2005 Beverly Hills 6750 and Beverly Hills Surgical Institute "Franchise Agreement" with David Bunevacz. Oseransky carried the title of vice president for operations of the Institute, and was presumed to be representing the latter. David was representing Beverly Hills 6750 as the latter's president. Dr. Santos speculated that Tom might be a "classmate of David.")
Asked about the alleged training, Dr. Santos said, "There was only one occasion perhaps that our dermatologist, our senior dermatologist, went to the U.S. And he [David] arranged for a visit. [But not] to Beverly Hills Surgical Institute, but to a place called Pacific Dermatology.
"And according to [our] dermatologist, it's really just a one-group, one-room, laser clinic-something like that. So it wasn't like it was a big operation. David did arrange for that, but it was not Beverly Hills Surgical Institute. It was a place called Pacific Dermatology."
PEP wanted to know: Wasn't that dubious enough?
"Again it was the persuasive ability of David to ano [win one over]," Dr. Santos answered. "Like, for example, our plastic surgeon, a few weeks ago, when this [PEP revelation] had come out, ‘Kaya pala, kaya pala. There's no place he wanted to bring me to, even if I insisted to go there. Kaya pala.' ‘Yan ang reaction, ‘kaya pala.'"
And the doctor admitted that there were instances when David would bring them grand news of coming partnerships.
"There was always a continuing saga or story," Dr. Santos said of David's style. "He would come up, let's say September, ‘Oh gosh, there's a Canadian group who wants to buy us out. Everybody, all the shareholders, will make money...' [Something like] 1.3 percent, money back, less 15-percent ownership of the company, so that's 1.3 premium per annum. ‘Just hold on guys, hold on guys!' May mga kuwento siyang ganun. And this happened two times, one with a Singaporean group, and another with the Canadian group."
PEP asked: "Did any of these deals go through?"
"Nothing. Nothing happened," Dr. Santos replied tersely.
Click here for PART II.