article

08.05.09

It's Getting Even Weirder

The plastic surgeon who built Michael's noses may be the most dubious character in the entire Jackson saga. Diane Dimond on the doctor whose bizarre behavior—like providing goodie bags of syringes filled with Demerol for celebrity patients; climbing a tree with a pellet gun; claiming to work undercover for the DEA and the Secret Service; and filing as a candidate for president—has attracted police attention, including a mental evaluation by the LAPD last year. But that hasn't stopped him from serving as the Jackson family's authorized medical representative, advising them on how to handle lawsuits, doctors, insurance, and the singer's promoter, AEG.

Dr. Steven Hoefflin seems perfectly suited to his role as the authorized medical representative for Michael Jackson’s grieving family, assisting them as they contemplate wrongful-death lawsuits against several doctors, insurance companies, and maybe even the singer’s promoter, AEG. The King of Pop’s personal plastic surgeon says he is making media appearances on behalf of the family and co-writing a book with Michael’s mother Katherine, tentatively titled 1,000 Wonderful Things About Michael Jackson That the Public Doesn’t Know About. Hoefflin also says he helped the family plan and carry out a drug intervention for his “good friend” in 2002. 

“Were some of those things a little nutsy? Yeah. But my wife was being threatened, I was being threatened.”

But recent history has shown that in the Jackson drama, nothing is what it appears, and that seems true in the case of Hoefflin. Since last year, and continuing through Jackson’s death, Hoefflin, the immediate past president of the Los Angeles Society of Plastic Surgeons, has engaged in a pattern of behavior so “delusional,” as a Los Angeles Police Department report terms it, that the LAPD’s Threat Assessment Unit has been monitoring him. Two police sources familiar with Hoefflin say the LAPD took him into custody for a mental evaluation following a 2008 incident in which officers observed him in a tree, clutching a pellet gun and babbling about assassination attempts.

Other incidents include various written statements from Hoefflin that he’s either an agent for, or a target of, the FBI, the CIA, the KGB and the Secret Service. He says he has received death threats from those tied to John McCain’s presidential campaign, apparently due to Hoefflin’s decision to run for president, a campaign that he thought he would win.

Michael Jackson began seeing Hoefflin in 1978. A “plastic surgeon to the stars,” Hoefflin told me that he’s treated 700 celebrity patients. His client roster has reportedly included Elizabeth Taylor, Donald and Ivana Trump, Joan Rivers, Don Johnson, Nancy Sinatra, Phyllis Diller, Sly Stallone, and Angie Everhart. The doctor began the work that would create the most infamous nose in the world, admitting to the first two of Jackson’s nose jobs.

But it was in 1984, after a pyrotechnic display set Michael Jackson’s hair on fire during the filming of a Pepsi commercial, that the world fully met a dynamic young surgeon named Steven Hoefflin. After the emergency surgery, Hoefflin stepped before the cameras, still wearing his blue surgical scrubs, to explain how he’d rebuilt the King of Pop’s scalded scalp. With his mop of trendy curly brown hair, moustache, and one rakishly raised eyebrow, Hoefflin seemed to relish the news-conference spotlight and to delight in his own momentary importance.

Hoefflin said he continued to be Jackson’s plastic surgeon until 2002, when he refused to treat him after a failed drug intervention. They remained personal friends, he said, right up to the end.

In a 90-minute interview Tuesday, Hoefflin, 63, said he was one of the few people near the Jackson family who have their interests at heart. When I asked him about his recent bizarre behavior, however, his response at three different points was: “I have a genius IQ."

Perhaps, but looking back through last spring, when he filed his federal Statement of Candidacy to run for president, writing to a colleague that a commissioned study gave him a 90 percent chance of winning, I’ve chronicled about a dozen incidents that point to serious issues for the man the Jackson family is apparently leaning on:

• In April of last year, a letter on “Dr. Hoefflin for President” stationery, addressed to the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, pronounced that the candidate had prepared a manuscript of a “very important new technique to significantly reduce consumption and trade of illegal drugs” with Mexico. The letter, obtained by The Daily Beast, claimed that Hoefflin had presented his plan to a top security agent for Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Dr. Hoefflin said he got a threatening phone call at 7 the next morning demanding he stop the drug talk or he would be killed.

• In May 2008, a report from the Los Angeles Police Department shows an officer responded to a call from Dr. Hoefflin’s L.A. home complaining of “criminal threats.” The officer’s report dryly states that, “Vict-Hoefflin, Steven stated that he is involved as an undercover agent for the FBI, DEA, CIA, Secret Service, and many other agencies. Vict is also an independent presidential candidate for 2008.” This time Hoefflin claimed the death threats he’d been receiving were coming from convicted stock manipulator Barclay Davis. When I asked Hoefflin about this, he told me it was correct, except he didn’t say he was an undercover agent for those agencies, merely a witness.

• On June 12, 2008, another police report obtained by The Daily Beast shows officers were alerted that Dr. Hoefflin had been sending threatening letters to his down-the-street neighbor, L.A. real-estate mogul Fred Sands. Officers made two trips to the doctor’s residence to speak to him about it. After a 90-minute conversation, the officer made this notation: “At time of interview suspect did not meet the 72-hour-hold criteria. No hold requested.” That note seems a clear reference to what’s called a 5150 hold, a mandatory commitment for a person considered to be a danger to himself or others. The last paragraph of the report reads, chillingly: “It should be noted that the suspect is in need of mental-health evaluation via personal doctor. Subject is delusional and thinks he’s being followed by KGB, CIA, FBI and CORRUPT LAPD.”

• In the letter from Hoefflin to Sands, dated June 6, 2008, which I have obtained, the doctor gave a five-page rambling account of the death threats he’d been receiving and grandly declared that after the threats, “a very extensive investigation took place with about a dozen different Department of Justice agencies, my Israeli security, and one of my patient’s Saudi Arabian security services.” The threats were traced back, Hoefflin claimed, to the rival presidential campaign of Senator John McCain. Since Fred Sands had publically endorsed McCain over Hoefflin, the doctor wanted the immediate return of a $1.6 million investment he’d made with Sands.

When asked whether he’d written the five-page letter to Sands, Hoefflin told me, “Absolutely. I was under threats that I didn’t know where they were coming from. Were some of those things a little nutsy? Yeah. But my wife was being threatened, I was being threatened.”

• On June 13, 2008, Hoefflin sent an email to the LAPD, which I’ve also obtained. He wrote to warn them about organized crime’s infiltration of the LAPD, LAX Police, and the Sheriff’s Department and the dirty cops he’d identified during his “undercover cases that I was working on…” He elaborated on six of those cases. Hoefflin complained bitterly in the letter about the U.S. government’s refusal to provide him with personal security. He mentions the “37 attempts to get the attention of Governor Schwarzenegger” and tells of attempting to get in to see Daniel McMullen, the Special Agent in Charge of the L.A. office of the FBI, to discuss his case. “He was in his office but refused to see me... despite my working with the FBI on several investigations…”

When I asked the doctor about this email, he went into a minutes-long tirade about Gov. Schwarzenegger’s refusal to take seriously a document he’d sent him entitled, “100 Points on Improving California.” He did tell me that governor’s wife, Maria Shriver, called him and asked him for another copy.

• Less than a week after firing off the long-winded email to the LAPD, the department’s special Threat Assessment Unit responded to a call in Hoefflin’s neighborhood. According to two officers with knowledge of the incident, unit officers found a man up in a tree, clutching a pellet gun and babbling incoherently to invisible people. It was Steven Hoefflin, according to police reports. Sources knowledgeable about the incident say he kept repeating there was a conspiracy to assassinate him. He was taken into custody on a 5150 mental-evaluation hold, and the discussion at the scene with police centered around whether the doctor was "off his meds," these sources said.

“That gun looked just like our standard-issue Berettas,” one officer told me, “Right down to the texture on the gun handle. He’s lucky because if he’d pointed it at any of the responding officers they would have shot him dead.” Two LAPD sources tell me Dr. Hoefflin was held at UCLA Medical Center for at least 72 hours. In his car, police found a stack of disjointed and disturbing handwritten notes, including one in which he claimed “…a police helicopter is following me. Call my wife. I am a witness due to dirty cops in L.A.” In others he writes about foreign governments, nuclear bombs, and al Qaeda.

Dr. Hoefflin categorically denied to me that he had ever been held under a 5150 procedure. "Absolutely did not happen,” he said.

In one of many phone messages he left me after our long discussion, Hoefflin warned me that he’d learned that I had received falsified police records, and in an eight-page threatening letter he sent the next day, he claimed the district attorney’s office had been alerted that I’d engaged in “obstruction of justice” and witness intimidation by asking him questions.

Following Jackson’s death, Hoefflin again began exhibiting erratic behavior in conjunction with his work on behalf of the Jackson family. Specifically, last week, after Katherine Jackson’s attorney, Londell McMillan, apparently didn’t take his advice and try to ban Jackson’s ex-wife Debbie Rowe from ever seeing the children during the recent custody hearing, Hoefflin blasted out a three-page confrontational letter to McMillan. He expressed his displeasure that his phone calls were not being returned, he accused the attorney of grandstanding and conflicts of interest. He ominously warns McMillan, “If you don’t take me seriously in my desire to protect the best interests of Katherine and the children, then please immediately step into the ring with me.” He again mentions his “well-known genius IQ” and says, “I would just love to litigate with you, both in court and in the public media.”

Hoefflin has previously been on the receiving end of serious allegations. In a lawsuit filed in 1996, four of Hoefflin’s administrative and medical staff from his Santa Monica, California-based surgical center sued for sexual harassment. The women claimed the doctor fondled and made disparaging remarks about the genitals of several of his celebrity patients while they were under anesthesia, that he anesthetized patients and then billed them for procedures he didn’t perform, and that he sent some of his favorites home with goodie bags of syringes filled with Demerol. The suit also said that the DEA also investigated Hoefflin—if true, no charges were ever filed—and alleged that Hoefflin “began to exhibit huge character and mood swings because of drug abuse and the effects of his lifestyle choices.”

During our lengthy interview, Hoefflin told me that the case ended with him receiving “a substantial amount of money.” However, court papers filed in a related case maintain the women each received $42,500 in compensation.

And did Hoefflin, Jackson’s first plastic surgeon, ever give Michael Jackson Demerol, or narcotics? “Well, yes, but only in the hospital,” he said, and only after surgeries. He firmly maintained he never overprescribed drugs to Michael Jackson.

As for his recent allegations about McMillan, the attorney for his co-author, Katherine Jackson, Hoefflin upped the ante in his eight-page letter to me, claiming that McMillan “extracted, without approval, $6.5 million to pay himself for apparent fabricated legal billings” and thus “attempting to intimidate me into seclusion.”

The letter also had some direct threats for me, suggesting that I should “stop having telephone conversations or emails with anyone until you hire a good criminal-defense attorney.”

“My investigational (sic) team will use an electron microscope to examine every second and every millimeter of your life,” Hoefflin’s letter continued. “When something tangible, important, involving torts, or criminal activities is found, it will be reported to the authorities investigating you and will then be added to my book."

The book Hoefflin should probably be worried about is the LAPD's. According to an LAPD source familiar with the incidents involving Hoefflin, investigators have taken notice of the plastic surgeon's recent missives, including the comments about McMillan. “Next time he goes off the deep end,” a police source told me, “he won’t be on a 72-hour [psychiatric] hold. We’ll make sure he’s held for a significant period of time.”

Investigative journalist and syndicated columnist Diane Dimond has covered the Michael Jackson story since 1993 when she first broke the news that the King of Pop was under investigation for child molestation. She is author of the book, Be Careful Who You Love—Inside the Michael Jackson Case. She lives in New York with her husband, broadcast journalist, Michael Schoen.