In December 2008, Bertha pleaded no contest in Los Angeles Superior Court to seven counts of practicing medicine without a license. A requirement to pay restitution of $7885 to 16 patients was imposed before sentencing.
When Bugarin was doing abortions herself between mid-February and mid-April 2007, she charged patients from “$320 to $900 in cash before receiving any medical treatment,” according to a sentencing memo. Patients in Los Angeles said that Bugarin wore “a white doctor’s coat or robe, white lab coat, white nurse’s ‘robe’ or white ‘sweater’ like one for a doctor.” As in Chula Vista, several patients told investigators that they “did not receive anesthesia or pain medication during the procedures” and “experienced moderate to severe pain.” Some said they had “fever or heavy bleeding.” Patients were told that “this was normal” or it was “just a matter of [the patient’s] hormones [coming] back into functioning normally.” One patient said of Bugarin’s technique that “it felt like her insides were being torn apart.”
At Bugarin’s sentencing hearing last month, she sobbed and said she had “never been more ashamed.” The deputy district attorney asked for a five-year sentence, calling Bugarin’s actions callous and cruel. The judge noted that Bugarin was not “an evil person or a hardened criminal.” He sentenced her, a week after her 49th birthday, to three years and four months in state prison.
Shut Down or Still in Business?
Though Bugarin and her sister were ordered on September 7, 2007, not to enter the Clinica Medica para la Mujer de Hoy in Chula Vista, the facility remained open after the Bugarins’ arrest in Los Angeles. That month, South Bay antiabortion activist Luis Mendoza, who’s been counseling people against abortion at the Chula Vista clinic, photographed Bugarin going into the clinic wearing a sleeveless black shirt and blue jeans and carrying a stethoscope around her neck. Mendoza, who knew Bugarin was not a doctor or a nurse, gave a copy of this photo to the Chula Vista police as evidence.
Other clinic watchers, members of antiabortion prayer groups that monitor the clinic’s activity, saw Dr. Nolan C. Jones enter the Chula Vista facility. Mendoza said that for years he has seen Jones coming regularly to Bugarin’s clinic in Chula Vista, at its location on Broadway and at a former location on H Street.
Jones was disciplined by the California Medical Board in 1999, 2002, and 2004 for gross negligence, among other things. On each occasion, the board ordered probation. (The way it has worked is that the board revokes Jones’s license, then “stays the revocation” and places him on probation, adding on time to his probation in 2002 and 2004.) In August 2004, the medical board extended Jones’s probation five years. The 2004 disciplinary order involved three elective abortions Jones did in 2002 and 2003 in the Latino suburb of Huntington Park and in L.A. In three instances, he was cited for not obtaining a blood count before the abortion and in one, for not having an oxygen tank available during the procedure, “an extreme departure from the standard of care,” according to the medical board. In the 2002 case, the girl, 16, had difficulty breathing and suffered an asthma attack. Without oxygen, she had to be rushed to a hospital, where she recovered.
Jones gave two of these patients “improperly labeled dangerous” drugs, tetracycline in an envelope that lacked the labeling the law requires.
Jones’s probation included the following conditions: he was required to take 40 hours of educational programs each year; he had to enroll in a “clinical training program” designed to assess a physician’s physical and mental health; he was to be monitored by another physician who had to submit quarterly reports about Jones’s performance; he had to “ensure that he has appropriate staff and equipment available when performing surgeries”; he could not supervise physician assistants; he had to be available for interviews at his place of business; and he owed $7374.
The terms of Jones’s probation did not prohibit him from doing abortions.
Mendoza spotted Jones on the weekend of October 20, 2007, going into Clinica Medica para la Mujer de Hoy in Chula Vista. Mendoza said that while monitoring the clinic that day he saw “female patients…entering for surgery.” Mendoza, who said he observed all day, noted that “no one was in the business except for Dr. Jones.” If this was true — and if Jones was doing abortions — it would be a violation of term number seven of his disciplinary order, which states that he must have appropriate staff available when performing surgeries.
When I spoke with Mendoza in summer 2008, Clinica Medica para la Mujer de Hoy was closed. Last month, he and another source tipped me off that the office had reopened under a new name. I visited the Chula Vista clinic and found it reopened as A Woman’s Choice Family Planning Clinic. The front office and its waiting room had been renovated with soft lighting and a giant plasma TV. A man named John, wearing scrubs, said that he was there to give out information to walk-ins. No doctors were present. John said he believed the office space was leased and the business run or owned by three doctors: Nolan Jones, W. Constantine Mitchell, and Andrew Rutland. John said they would soon open with all-new equipment but so far had done no procedures.
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I called the Orange County phone number advertised on the front window and spoke briefly with Dr. Mitchell, who confirmed that he and the other two doctors would be practicing medicine at A Woman’s Choice. He turned me over to a secretary, Michelle, who said that there were two more doctors, one Rutland’s daughter, Dr. Costanza Rutland, and another whose name she’d forgotten. (Costanza Rutland currently practices at an ob-gyn clinic in Virginia.) A total of five doctors would be working in Chula Vista. She didn’t know who owned the business.