I-Team: Lifestyle Lift plastic surgery clinics under investigation

Patients, ex-employees claim customers deceived

TAMPA, Fla. - They call themselves the largest group of facial plastic surgeons in the country. They also advertise on ABC Action News.

But Lifestyle Lift is currently under investigation by Florida's Attorney General. I-Team investigator Michael George spoke to patients and ex-employees who claim Lifestyle Lift is more concerned with selling surgeries than their patients' satisfaction.

You may have seen Lifestyle Lift's infomercial before. Celebrity singer Debby Boone hosts the program, singing her hit song, "You Light Up My Life."

Lifestyle Lift describes itself as a nationwide group of 40 clinics. They promise less invasive, cheaper facelifts.

In its infomercial, founder Dr. David Kent claims they can turn back the hands of time.

"It simply makes you look the same way you did years ago," Kent says, in the advertisement.

But not all of Lifestyle Lift's patients had that experience.

"I was very disappointed," said Annette DiPaolo of Naples.

"I didn't get any of the results," said Linda Mineer of Deltona.

"This is worth nothing. Zero," said B.J. Gawle of Ft. Myers.

DiPaolo, Mineer, and Gawle are 3 of the 68 people who have filed complaints with the Florida Attorney General's Office in the past 2 years. The Attorney General is now investigating Lifestyle Lift for accusations of "unfair and deceptive trade practices".

The I-Team reviewed all the complaints filed. Several of the patients say employees convinced them they'd look years younger, but the results didn't live up. B.J. Gawle says after the surgery, she didn't notice any improvement to her jowls and sagging skin.

"They're telling you what you want to see. You want to look like that. You want your neck to go away. You want these wrinkles to go away. And that's what they're showing you," Gawle said.

In e-mails sent to the I-Team, Lifestyle Lift maintains the majority of their 150,000 patients are satisfied with their results. They offered us five patients who all told us the procedure did work for them, including Nancy Martin of Clearwater. Martin says she got exactly what she was promised.

"The sagging was gone. I was very happy," Martin said.

Investigator Michael George spoke with two former employees who say the problem is not the surgery, but the sales tactics. Lifestyle Lift's former Vice-President of Advertising Operations Harold House said he witnessed several unethical practices during his 10 months with the company. He has filed a complaint with the Florida Attorney General's office.

House spoke to investigator Michael George by web camera. He says employees were given quotas to sign up a certain amount of patients for surgery every week.

"Each center, like the Tampa center, the Fort Lauderdale Center, were given a total quota to hit," House said.

House also says employees used high-pressure sales tactics to sign up patients even when they knew the patient might not benefit from the surgery.

Lifestyle Lift says House is lying about all of his claims, pointing out he was fired from the company and he was convicted of bank fraud 21 years ago.

Former Lifestyle Lift doctor Michael Branch of Lake Mary says during his six months with the company, he was concerned with the pressure put on patients to sign up.

"I really felt like there was a bit of a, for lack of a better term, it was somewhat of a mill," Branch said.

"I don't want patients to be misled and to be given false hope and to be given procedures that are inappropriate," he added.

The company's founder, Dr. David Kent, agreed to speak with I-Team investigator Michael George from Michigan, where the company is headquartered.

Kent denies that Lifestyle Lift uses quotas or high-pressure sales tactics.

"Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, about 65% of patients that come into Lifestyle Lift don't even have the procedure," Kent said.

But in 2009, the New York Attorney General's Office found Lifestyle Lift was intentionally and illegally "duping consumers."  Lifestyle Lift agreed to pay a $300,000 fine for creating fake reviews of the surgery online, written in the names of patients who did not exist.

According to documents obtained from the New York Attorney General's Office, one internal e-mail from Lifestyle Lift read, "Take off the Lifestyle Lift logo – nobody is supposed to know LL is involved with this website."

Kentsays the company is not posting fake reviews.

"Lifestyle Lift, like all companies, is learning how to properly deal with the internet. I think we have come a long way, and we do know how to deal with it," he said.

Kentalso defended Lifestyle Lift when asked it was unusual for a group of medical clinics to have faced two attorney general's investigations, two ongoing lawsuits alleging false advertising filed in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties,

and several claims from unsatisfied patients.

"In any plastic surgery practice, you'll always have a few people that did not get the results that they wanted, despite all their best efforts," Kent said.

"This may look like a lot, but when you consider it in the context of 150,000 people, it's not that many," Kent added.

The Florida Attorney General is also investigating whether Lifestyle Lift is still posting fake reviews online, written by employees or paid customers. Lifestyle Lift says that practice is not currently taking place, and points out the Attorney General has not filed any charges.

If you have a tip for the I-Team, contact us at iteam@abcactionnews.com. You can also follow investigator Michael George on Facebook at www.facebook.com/michaelgeorgewfts or on Twitter at #michaelgeorge28.

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