Robert Young and Paul Pfingst in court in October 2014
“The defendant has gotten away with his phony persona for years,” a prosecutor told the jury yesterday, November 18, in her opening statements in the trial of Robert Oldham Young, who is accused of taking money from cancer victims for dubious treatments.
Prosecutor Gina Darvis claimed that 63-year-old Young is “nothing more than a charlatan con artist who takes advantage of desperately ill persons.”
Young pleads not guilty to nine felony counts. There are seven counts of practicing medicine without a license and two counts of grand theft for taking thousands of dollars from two victims. There are seven victims named, total, in the case.
The prosecutor disparages Young for calling himself “doctor,” saying that in the year 1995 he acquired a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and then a doctorate — within an eight-month span, from a place called the Clayton School of Natural Healing. Darvis said that none of those degrees was in microbiology or chemistry, as Young has claimed, but instead those degrees were in holistic nutrition, “whatever that may be.”
Some of Young’s alleged treatments took place at his Valley Center ranch, which is advertised as a “Miracle Center.”
The prosecutor said that Young typically told patients that their blood was too acidic, and he urged them to become more alkaline. Some of his reputed treatment involved a rigorous diet, a raw vegan diet that stressed no meat, no fish, no dairy.
“This trial is not an attack on alternative medicine,” the prosecutor claimed. She alleges that Young got himself into legal trouble when he gave IV treatments to his patients, which she said requires a licensed doctor.
“He infused people with baking soda in IV bags,” prosecutor Darvis told the jury. The defendant is accused of giving sodium bicarbonate intravenously to sick people, in his effort to reach a special, perfect blood pH of 7.365.”
Darvis said this was profitable for Young because the IV treatments were priced at $500 each and most patients got two of these IV treatments per day, on top of the $2000 per day he charged to stay at the Valley Center facility.
Defense attorney Paul Pfingst stated in his pretrial motions: “The ranch is not a medical facility. No one has ever claimed it is a medical facility and guests are required to sign consent forms acknowledging that the ranch does not provide medical treatment. It offers education, room, board, exercise facilities, massage therapy, infra-red sauna and colonics, as well as stress reduction and emotional support.”
Pfingst said of the facility, which was once an avocado and grapefruit ranch, “People come to the Valley Center place to break out of their bad habits.” Pfingst told the jury, “He was a trainer there.” Pfingst said that Young packaged and sold nutritional supplements, which were distributed around the world. “All of this is designed to help people heal,” the defense attorney said.
Defense is positioning Young as a sympathetic character, “He has spent almost his entire adult life helping people feel better.” Pfingst showed the jury one of the books Young has written and markets, titled, The pH Miracle, and Pfingst pointed out that about 140 pages are recipes.
“He gives advice on which foods are most beneficial to us, and which are least beneficial to us,” Pfingst said. “And exercise, and reduce stress, and you will feel better. How dangerous is that type of discussion?”
Pfingst objected when the prosecutor began her presentation by displaying a photo from the movie Wizard of Oz, which showed a little dog pulling a curtain away to expose the man pretending to be a wizard. Prosecutor Darvis said her case is about a man who used deception and caused harm to his victims.
“He used trumped-up credentials and bogus science to trick victims into believing he was something he is not,” said Darvis.
But Pfingst countered by telling the jury that Young has sold millions of his books, has a big internet presence, travels the world to give his lectures, and has even been on Oprah – which Pfingst pointed out is a very public and exposed life, not hidden at all.
Pfingst consistently referred to his client as “Dr. Young,” and the prosecutor referred to him as “the defendant” or “Mr. Young.”
More than a year ago, prosecutor Darvis originally charged Young with 22 felonies, including practicing medicine without a license on 12 named persons, grand theft by fraud in excess of $200,000, and using the identification of another to order restricted medical supplies. At the end of a preliminary hearing, most of those charges were dismissed by a judge who found insufficient evidence.
A jury of six men and six women continues to hear evidence before judge Richard Whitney in San Diego’s North County Superior Courthouse in Vista.