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Couple charged in Astoria fake Botox scheme

A Venezuelan couple was charged last week with illegally practicing plastic surgery out of an Astoria apartment and injecting at least two patients with a Botox-like substance that may not be approved for use in the United States, the Queens district attorney said.

Eliezar Fernandez, 53, and his wife Iris, 49, of 316 Third Avenue in Manhattan were arraigned last Thursday in State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens on a litany of charges, including multiple counts of assault, reckless endangerment, scheme to defraud, grand larceny, criminal possession of a weapon, unauthorized practice, and unauthorized use of a professional title, DA Richard Brown said.

The couple pleaded not guilty to the charges and were remanded into the court’s custody, a spokeswoman for Brown said. They could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted, he said.

The charges stem from complaints that the couple practiced as physicians and defrauded at least nine individuals seeking medical assistance from them between Feb. 28 and May 22 at 24-17 77th St. in Astoria and various locations in Manhattan, Brown said.

The couple allegedly used a substance believed to be Hyacell, a Botox-like chemical which is used in cosmetic procedures in other countries but has not been approved for use in the United States, Brown said. The substance was injected underneath the skin of the couple’s patients to smooth out wrinkles, but caused life-threatening infections and disfigurement in at least two patients, he said.

The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has identified a total of nine people who reported infections after seeking treatment from the couple, eight of whom had to be hospitalized. The infections indicated that the injections may have been contaminated, and the cosmetic substance may have included silicone, vitamins, collage, procaine, elastin, and a hyaluronic acid compound, according to the agency.

“The defendants are alleged to have preyed upon unsuspecting individuals who believed that they were doctors by injecting them with a Botox-like substance and placing their health and lives at risk,” Brown said. “Their alleged conduct was both reprehensible and dangerous because it exploited the vanity of individuals seeking a younger-looking appearance for a reasonable cost and caused the victims to suffer life-threatening infections and disfigurement.”

Freddy Borges, 47, an artist from Brooklyn, received treatments from the couple at their Astoria location on five separate occasions, Brown said. The couple allegedly gave him injections on Feb. 28, March 22, and April 26, for which he paid them $300 per treatment, Brown said.

After the last visit, Borges developed facial inflammation and a fever, and returned to the couple for additional treatment a few days later, according to the criminal complaint. Iris Fernandez allegedly made multiple incisions on his face to drain blood and gave Borges pills to treat the infection, Brown said. Borges visited the couple again on May 22, when Iris Fernandez gave him additional facial injections to treat the inflammation, the DA said.

Borges was later treated at a Manhattan hospital for the severe infection and remained hospitalized at the time of the couple’s arrest, Brown said.

Another alleged patient, Joan Lusk, a 63-year-old cosmetic saleswoman, received similar treatments, paying $600 per session, and suffered from a similar infection, Brown said. She also remains under a doctor’s care, he said.

An investigation is continuing to determine if there are other victims, and the couple were due back in court on Aug. 1, Brown said.

The Department of Health is also investigating other possible cases and asks that people who have had similar procedures done by unlicensed practitioners and are suffering from infections as a result to report the cases at 212-788-4162, or at 212-POISONS, after normal business hours.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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