In September 2006, a St. Lucie County sheriff approached a black Ford pickup idling outside the Easy Living Trailer Park. Inside, next to a screwdriver used to start the clunker, a man sat slumped over the center console. After being shaken awake and stumbling out with "bloodshot and watery" eyes, the driver blew a .081 — just over the legal limit — into the officer's Intoxilyzer.
The man, whom we'll call Hank to protect his identity, had been down this road before, with three previous DUI convictions. So a few months later, a judge sentenced him to three years in prison.
Today, Hank's saga must stand as the worst punishment ever received for taking a boozy snooze at the wheel of a vehicle. Because three years ago, Hank developed blisters on his penis, launching a series of botched operations at a roulette wheel of hospitals, culminating with him having his penis amputated.
Dr. Paul Perito
The doctor whom Hank says is most responsible for robbing him of his penis is none other than Dr. Paul Perito, a physician who has somehow stayed in scrubs despite charges of organized fraud and racketeering linked to a strip club in which he was an investor, allegations of a "special K" habit, and an ongoing lawsuit by a patient who also lost his penis. Hank recently filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) and six doctors, including Perito.
"Hank has an eighth-grade education," says his sister, who requested anonymity. "He's a hard-working, good man. He's just had some trouble with alcohol."
In a December 20 court filing, Perito denied any negligence in Hank's treatment, blaming the patient's "actions or omissions." Perito's attorney William L. Petros did not return a phone message seeking comment. Perito himself did not respond to three phone messages and an email. In August 2010, though, he beckoned New Times to his office and angrily waved a penile implant at a reporter while insisting his criminal case had resulted in a "complete dismissal... My reputation right now should be exonerated."
Says Hank's attorney, Spencer Aronfeld: "It's tough to fathom what Dr. Perito would have to do for the state to finally revoke his license."
A lifelong Floridian, 51-year-old Hank is a man of simple pleasures. He enjoys fishing and four-wheeling — and unfortunately for him, often a beer or two too many. In 1992, he was charged with a hit-and-run following a booze-fueled accident, his third such conviction, resulting in 11 months in lockup. By the time he was arrested in 2006, though, he had stayed mostly out of vehicular trouble for a decade and a half and was working as a fence installer.
Hank spent two uneventful years at the Okeechobee Correctional Institution before his path crossed Perito's. "These bumps come up on my privates," he drawls now, "and I couldn't piss right."
Hank was sent under guard to South Miami's Larkin Community Hospital, where Perito was called in to check out the damage. Hank didn't know it then, but the urologist had a past arguably more checkered than the undereducated, alcoholic patient.
The rangy 50-year-old Perito interned at the University of Miami and was first licensed in Florida in 1994. He cuts a distinctive figure, pairing cowboy boots with green scrubs. His website boasts that his private practice — Perito Urology — is the world's leading provider of penile implants. He claims to have surgically installed 3,000 of the silicone rods, which keep their recipients forever erect.
But the Kentucky native's successes have been chased by trouble.
In 1999, he was charged with battery and culpable negligence in Miami-Dade. The charges were dropped, and the case file has been mostly destroyed. In 2002, according to state corporation records, Perito was registered as the vice president of PPNJ Entertainment. Its primary holding: Playpen South, a Goulds strip club. The same year, Perito dropped $590,000 on a Kumquat Avenue house in Coconut Grove.
Charges filed in 2004 might provide insight to where the doctor was getting all of his extra cash. Perito faced dozens of counts involving the illegal sale of prescription drugs under federal RICO racketeering statutes. In a Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) affidavit, witnesses told investigators that Perito, who is not a licensed pharmacist, and his cronies had bought the club with proceeds from peddling counterfeit and diluted cancer, kidney disease, and AIDS medicine. "The idea that anybody would be willing to dilute drugs and profit from the suffering of other human beings is horrific," said then-State Attorney General and future governor Charlie Crist.
One of the informants recalled seeing Perito using controlled substances — particularly ketamine — "on numerous occasions." He even showed up at Playpen high on special K, claimed the informant who was also a patient, the night before he was due to perform surgery on him.
Another witness claimed to have watched Perito "burn 'special K' into a liquid form and place it into a microwave." Then the doctor "chopped up and snorted" the hardened substance, the witness claimed in the FDLE affidavit, and shared it with a dancer named Barbie, "who appeared catatonic after snorting the substance."
But he entered a pretrial diversion program for only one minor charge: illegal possession of prescription drugs. He underwent counseling and paid $2,294 in court costs. He also agreed to pay a $15,000 fine to the Florida Department of Health in order to keep his license.
Journalist Katherine Eban's 2005 book, Dangerous Doses: How Counterfeiters Are Contaminating America's Drug Supply, painted an even wilder portrait of the urologist. She claimed that a "high" Perito once bragged on the dance floor that he "split the penis of a gay male patient in two so that the man could entertain two lovers at once." (Perito sued Eban for libel and slander two years later. A civil judge suspended the case pending the criminal action against the doctor, and Perito never resumed the lawsuit.)
In August 2007, Perito performed an allegedly botched penile implant operation on a patient named Enrique Millas. The 62-year-old man's penis became gangrenous, so the doctor removed most of it. Millas, who is also represented by Aronfeld, sued Perito two years later. He claimed the complications arose from his diabetes, which the doctor should have foreseen. In court argument, and in the 2010 interview, Perito maintained that Millas doomed his penis by having sex too soon after surgery.
Hank didn't know any of this backstory when Perito examined his ailing male member in June 2009.
Two months ago, he filed suit against the Department of Corrections, Larkin Hospital, and doctors Perito, Carpio, Haridas Bhadja, Robert Hernandez, Pedro Kiliddjian, and Michael Mirander. (Those doctors have broadly denied negligence in court filings. They either did not respond to email and phone messages or declined to comment when reached by New Times.) The lawsuit claims Perito "breached his duty of care to [Hank]... resulting in pain, disability, disfigurement, and mental anguish."
Hank told his gory story in a phone interview. He recalls that the urologist "debrided" the organ — stripping it of contaminated tissue — and then packed it with gauze and stitched it up. He attached three strings to pull the packing out, like a tampon, within five days. "You know when you're a kid and you get kicked in the nuts, how bad it hurts?" Hank remembers. "It was past that. It was unbearable pain."
Apparently in a bid by the DOC to cut costs, Hank was bounced from Larkin to Kendall Regional Medical Center, and he wasn't seen by Perito again until it was too late. Other doctors, Hank says, were stumped by Perito's gauze-and-string handiwork and couldn't reach the urologist.
Though the gauze was supposed to be removed within less than a week, it wasn't until nearly three weeks later, on July 17, after Hank's penis "started turning colors and stuff," when a Kendall urologist treated him for "severe penile infection and gangrene."
Hank says it felt like the gauze was packed "past my testicles, up by my gut somewhere."
As the doctor pulled the gauze, it was "green and gooey, this long, stringy packing." The guard assigned to Hank went into a vomiting fit during the procedure.
Less than two weeks later, surgery was again performed on Hank's penis. Five days after that, he underwent another operation.
Finally, on August 14 — after Hank had endured four penis surgeries with increasingly catastrophic results — Perito finally inspected the battered remains of his handiwork.
Three days later, Hank underwent a "partial penectomy." "When I woke up, I had a hose run up inside me, and everything else was cut off — completely amputated," Hank says, choking back tears. "It's still hard to talk about."
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Hank remained shackled to that hospital bed, urinating through a catheter. He was released from state custody in March 2010 — having lost 60 pounds due to illness caused by infection. He still isn't even sure what caused the initial blistering.
Since returning home, he has kept the amputation a secret. "The only people who know are my sister, my dog, and my lawyer," he says.
Hank's sister says he hasn't touched a drink since the ordeal. He is in constant pain, is on a daily cocktail of antibiotics, and was once rushed to the hospital when his feet and hands bizarrely turned black from infection. Asked if he still experiences sexual urges, Hank chokes up again.
"Sometimes I have dreams. But I'm in so much pain, sex is the last thing on my mind. I don't think they have enough money to pay me for what they've done to me. They can never replace it. They can't give me a rubber leg. I don't know what they'd put there."