A fake cosmetic surgeon who left a woman in a coma for six weeks following an illegal liposuction procedure was properly advised of the consequences of pleading guilty to 28 felonies, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.
Gustavo Felix Nunez operated medical clinics in a Tucson warehouse and in his home, but was not a licensed medical professional. The full scope of his activities came to light in 2014 after a patient suffered a lack of oxygen for several minutes.
Nunez, 58, was eventually charged with performing 70 unlawful liposuction procedures in 2012 to 2014. To avoid trial, he accepted a plea deal in April 2017, admitting to 16 counts of aggravated assault, nine counts of violating Arizona’s medical licensing laws, and three counts related to fraudulent schemes and criminal enterprise.
The plea deal called for Nunez to serve at least 13 years in prison, although Judge Deborah Bernini of the Pima County Superior Court had discretion to impose a longer term. And that she did, sentencing Nunez in August 2017 to 38.25 years.
The Arizona Court of Appeals later ruled Nunez was entitled to a post-conviction evidentiary hearing on whether his attorney provided ineffective assistance by not properly explaining the consequences of a guilty plea, including the possible sentence range and that Nunez would be waiving his right to seek a pardon.
“During the hearing, the court heard testimony from Nunez, several relatives, another attorney as an expert witness, trial counsel, and trial counsel’s staff,” according to court records. “The court did not find Nunez’s testimony credible and found that counsel had not improperly advised him as to the length or conditions of his incarceration, the state’s burden of proof, or his eligibility for a pardon.”
Nunez then petitioned to the court of appeals once again, leading to this week’s unanimous decision to deny relief.
“The trial court’s factual determinations as to what counsel had told Nunez about his prison sentence and the possibility of a pardon were supported by evidence presented at the hearing,” the April 1 decision reads. “Counsel testified that they had been prepared to go to trial and planned to do so on the payment they had already received. And, as discussed at the evidentiary hearing, the trial court itself recommended that Nunez accept a plea offer at the pretrial settlement conference, supporting counsel’s advice that doing so was in his best interest. Thus, because the trial court’s ruling was supported by evidence at the hearing, we will affirm its decision.”
According to court records, Nunez had “treated” several women at his home. In June 2014, one of them stopped breathing during a liposuction procedure and began to have seizures triggered by Lidocaine toxicity.
The resultant lack of oxygen left the woman in a “permanent stroke-like condition” following six weeks in a coma. Investigators later learned Nunez failed to call 911 when the woman fell ill and then waited an hour before getting her to an emergency room.
At least two other patients were treated at hospital emergency rooms following treatment by Nunez.
Investigators with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Tucson PD, and South Tucson PD later raided Nunez’s home and office, seizing Halcion, Lidocaine, Valium, as well as controlled substances which he injected in and prescribed to the women, many of whom paid Nunez more than $20,000, court records show.
The Arizona Department of Corrections lists Nunez as eligible for release from custody in January 2047. He would then complete his sentence under community supervision, similar to probation.
Nunez’s girlfriend, Ilda Garcia, was sentenced in 2015 to serve a seven-year prison term. Garcia, a Mexican National, was released by ADC on community supervised released in July 2020. She was subject to an immigration hold but it is unclear whether she is still in the United States serving the remainder of her sentence.
A second woman, Carlota Monroy, pleaded guilty to facilitation to illegally conduct an enterprise. She was sentenced in July 2014 to three years of probation.