Alternative health practitioner pleads not guilty to felony charges
Valley Center man Robert Young could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted for committing conspiracy to practice medicine without a license.
January 31, 2014Robert Young, a Valley Center man who runs the pH Miracle Center on Dia Del Sol, was arrested last Thursday and charged with conspiracy to practice medicine without a license and several counts of grand theft. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in court on Friday.
The charges allege that Young administered intravenous treatments in an unlicensed facility on his 46-acre Valley Center property, and took money from patients knowing that his treatment would not work. If convicted on all 18 felony charges, Young could face up to 15 years and 8 months in state prison.
"He calls himself a doctor. He is not a doctor" said Gina Darvas, Deputy District Attorney. "The fraudulent aspect of this case is that he provides treatment to people who are terminally ill, knowing it will not be effective."
Young, 61, practices naturopathic medicine and authored the book The pH Miracle. He offers health retreats on his avocado ranch and recommends an alkaline diet and reducing acid intake to treat a wide variety of ailments, according to his website.
Young holds a Ph.D. and a Doctorate of Naturopathy, according to Deborah Tumlinson, a spokesperson for Young. Although he describes himself as a doctor, Tumlinson emphasized that Young has never purported to be a medical doctor.
"He vehemently denies all charges," said Tumlinson. "He looks forward to the charges being dropped or dismissed."
According to Darvas, all six terminal patients listed in the complaint who were being treated by Young have died.
Young was originally jailed on a $1 million bail, but San Diego Superior Judge David Szumowski lowered that bail to $100,000 on Friday and ordered that he turn over his passport. Young was released early Saturday morning, but he has been ordered not to treat patients at the ranch. Prior to the charges, Young averaged around ten patients a week, said Tumlinson.
Victor Pippins, who is representing Young along with former San Diego County District Attorney Paul Pfingst, found the prosecutor's claims of fraud to be "preposterous."
"There's certainly no evidence that Dr. Young knew that these things were not effective," said Pippins. "To the contrary, we have letters and it will pour in, testimonials from tens of thousands of people who have found that his treatments are effective for them."
Aside from the charges of fraud, the 13-page complaint alleges that Young advertised medical diagnostic services, treated patients on his ranch without a certificate, and charged six terminally-ill patients upwards of $50,000 for treatments. However, Young's legal team is confident he stayed within the bounds of the law.
"All of Dr. Young's patients are made aware in writing of what he does. They know that he's not an M.D.," said Pippins. "Really, we see this case as being about Californians' ability to make informed choices about their healthcare, and what Dr. Young has provided is an alternative, and that is the reason why people have sought him out."
Young's defense will hinge on the state's Health Freedom Act, which was passed in 2002 to protect alternative health practitioners from facing restrictions "due to technical violations of the Medical Practice Act," according to SB 577.
Two other individuals, Rocio "Rosio" Placencia, 32, and Bennie Stephen Johnson, 63, have also been charged with conspiracy in the case. According to the complaint, Johnson is a medical doctor who followed Young's recommendations, and Placencia is charged with lying to investigators and concealing medical supplies in a shed at her home.
U.S. Marshals first raided Young's property back in July with a search warrant. Adding further intrigue to the case, when members of the U.S. Marshals San Diego Fugitive Task Force came to arrest Young on Jan. 23, they arrived in full force.
"There were upwards of a dozen armed agents who went to arrest (Young) last week, which, given the type of person, the type of charges, seems like an incredibly heavy-handed use of force," said Pippins. "We're really disappointed that they wouldn't allow him to self-surrender. Again, since we've been in contact with the district attorney's office since the very day that they executed that search warrant in July."
Young's next hearing is scheduled for March 14, but in the meantime Tumlinson says he will take to various media outlets to garner support for his case.
"This is a fight that we see as being bigger than just about Dr. Young," said Pippins. "It's really a battle and a larger war between vested interests in medicine and the alternative treatment that millions of Californians have shown a desire to use and have available to them."