In the Bag
When Tammy met Bill, she was a freshman at Miami Northwestern Senior High School, a pretty girl of medium height with long black eyelashes and pearly white teeth. He was a handsome senior who played basketball. The pair began dating, and a couple of years later, son Robert was born. When Tammy turned nineteen, they got hitched and talked about raising a large family, unaware that a man posing as a doctor would single-handedly cripple that dream.
The newlyweds, whose names have been changed to protect their privacy, rented a modest apartment in Hollywood and settled into family life. "There were definitely some hard times, but we were happy," recalls Tammy, her almond-shape brown eyes glistening. Eight years later, the trio celebrated the arrival of five-pound two-ounce Tanyiah.
At the mention of her daughter, the young mother's face lights up. "She's a fairy princess," she says, beaming a megawatt smile. "That's what her name means."
Then age 27, Tammy spent several months caring for the two kids and working full-time as a supervisor at a Fort Lauderdale Airport gift shop. On Saturday, October 9, 2004, she took a pregnancy test, and two purple lines appeared. She was shocked to learn she was expecting again so soon. Fearful another child would prove too stressful, she convinced a reluctant Bill they should terminate the pregnancy.
"It was not an easy choice to make, but my daughter was only a few months old," she says softly, batting back emotion. "I wouldn't have been able to cope."
Four days later, shortly before 9:00 a.m., Tammy pulled her blue 1997 Mercury Sable into the parking lot at 6161 Miramar Pkwy. It was an abortion clinic A Gyn of Miramar she had found in the yellow pages. She walked toward the pale-color building; entered the small, stark waiting room; and approached the taller of two women. Twenty-eight-year-old Miami resident Joselin Collado asked Tammy to sign some consent forms and pay.
So Tammy handed over $225 in cash, which Collado shoved into her pocket. The price for abortions at A Gyn, Tammy knew, ranged from $225 to $1100 for up to 22 weeks gestation. (Twenty-four weeks is the legal limit for most abortions in Florida, and Tammy was approximately seven weeks along.) Collado then escorted her to a room in the rear of the facility for an ultrasound. "I was pregnant with twins," Tammy shrieks, "and when I realized I was having two babies, I knew I was doing the right thing. One would have been hard enough, but two?"
Tammy would endure two procedures at the clinic. The night following the second one (two weeks after the first), she was in so much pain she could barely stand. "I was so scared," she says. "I just knew something was really wrong, and I started to think that maybe this was my punishment from God." She staggered into the bathroom. "I was leaning over the sink, holding onto the front with both hands, when I heard my husband say, 'Oh my God.'"
In a matter of seconds, her knee-length shorts had turned from a pale khaki color to fire-engine red. Glancing down, she watched in terrified silence as a steady stream of blood dripped from her vagina, down her bare calves, and onto the tile floor.
It would later turn out that her abortion at A Gyn was badly botched twice. The doctor who had performed the procedures had no license. One of the nurses, Collado, was actually a dental assistant. The other, Miami Beach resident Adieren Rojas, had been hired as a janitor.
Indeed Tammy is not the only woman to tell of intrigue and incompetence at two Miami-Dade and Broward County abortion clinics linked to three people: Frantz Bazile, Belkis Gonzalez, and Siomara Senises. In December 2004, police raided and closed the facility where Tammy's abortion was performed; Senises was the president and Gonzalez the vice president. Another clinic in Hialeah linked to the two women and Bazile was also shut down this past July after an eighteen-year-old gave birth to what police say was a live 23-week-old fetus. Officers allege the fetus was then killed and stashed on the roof. A third clinic, overseen by Senises, continues to function and bustles with patrons.
While recent public debate has centered on the question of whether abortion should be banned by the U.S. Supreme Court, less has been said of the potential dangers that low-income or uninsured women like Tammy face at centers such as A Gyn. "I hope no other women have to go through what I did," she says. "I had a terrible experience. I just want to put it behind me already."
Relatively little is known about 40-year-old Gonzalez and 42-year-old Senises, the two women who founded the A Gyn clinics. Gregory Iamunno and Regina DeMoraes-Millan, lawyers for Gonzalez and Senises respectively, declined to comment. Public records offer no more information than the dates the women incorporated the facilities.
But numerous documents pertaining to a pair of physicians linked to them Bazile and 46-year-old Robelto Osborne, whom Tammy contends botched her abortion offer insight into the facilities and the people who apparently worked there. (Bazile claims he isn't connected to the clinics, though his name appears on at least three public records related to the facilities.)
Police reports, malpractice suits, and information gleaned from various other public records reveal Bazile and Osborne's checkered professional histories. Among the highlights: In 1991, Bazile was placed on three years' professional probation in Illinois for botching an abortion in 1987. And in the wake of a series of malpractice suits, Osborne's license was revoked for his failing to recognize a severely perforated uterus and perform necessary preoperative procedures. Bazile declined to comment about his past. Several calls to Osborne's home went unanswered.
Fifty-nine-year-old Bazile, who hails from Haiti, lives in a 3700-square-foot Miramar home and has a practice at 6464 N. Miami Ave. in Little Haiti. He began his medical career 37 years ago in Europe at the University of Brussels. After graduating with a medical degree in June 1976, he relocated to the United States and accepted a position in Illinois as a resident surgeon at Chicago's Mount Sinai Hospital, according to the Florida Department of Health Website. In July 1979 he began specializing in obstetrics and gynecology and completed his residency three years later. (A Mount Sinai spokesperson recently was not able to confirm Bazile worked there. No current staff member has been at the facility long enough to remember him.)
Details of his professional life from that point on are sparse until September 1987, when he attempted a late-second-trimester abortion on a seventeen-year-old at Chicago's Paulina Surgi-Center, Inc. Illinois Department of Professional Regulation records indicate he "failed to perform an ultrasound" on the girl and "failed to accurately assess [her] gestational age and physical condition prior to attempting to perform [the] procedure."
He began the procedure by removing "spongy material" from the teenager's uterus, failing to recognize it was "mature placenta tissue," the records show. She hemorrhaged, and during his attempts to stop the bleeding, Bazile lacerated both the young woman's cervix and vagina. The patient was eventually transferred by ambulance to a nearby hospital, where doctors performed an emergency blood transfusion and a cesarean section. Her baby was born alive but later died. Shortly thereafter, the clinic where the incident took place was sold. (The current owners claim they never met Bazile.)
Three years after the incident, Illinois's chief of medical prosecutions determined Bazile's conduct was "unprofessional" and he was "likely to harm the public." He recommended Bazile's "physician and surgeon license be either suspended, revoked, or otherwise disciplined." The doctor denied any wrongdoing, but authorities placed him on three years' professional probation.
By that time, Bazile had already relocated to South Florida and founded a company named the Frantz Bazile M.D. Service Corporation in Little Haiti. And he was the defendant in another complaint. Details of the case, which was filed in 1990 in Miami-Dade County, are sketchy the file has since been destroyed. But attorney Barry M. Snyder says his client, Gwendolyn Bolton, was a patient at the Hialeah Ladies Medical Center. He claims Bazile misdiagnosed Bolton's appendicitis. But Bazile contested the facts, and in 1992 the suit was dismissed. "No negligence was found on the part of Dr. Bazile," Synder recalls.
That same year Bazile fathered a child by a woman named Claudine Sada. (A few years after the birth, the mother filed a paternity suit, and a judge ordered Bazile to pay child support.) The details of when or where Bazile met Belkis Gonzalez and Siomara Senises are unclear, but in May 1994 the trio incorporated an abortion clinic titled A Gyn Diagnostic Center at 3671 W. Sixteenth Ave. in Hialeah. (Gonzalez and Bazile listed the same Pembroke Pines residential address on Florida Division of Corporations paperwork.)
Within twelve months, Bazile was once again under legal scrutiny, according to Judson L. Cohen, a Miami personal injury attorney. The lawyer, who represented a father and his seventeen-year-old daughter, sued Bazile, claiming he aborted the girl's fetus without parental consent at a Miami clinic. The case was dismissed. The lawyer does not recall whether Bazile paid a settlement, and the court records have been destroyed.
In April 1996, Gonzalez, Senises, and Bazile founded a second A Gyn clinic in Miramar, according to Broward County tax records. It was the same place where Tammy's abortion would later be botched. Though Bazile's name did not appear on incorporation papers, he signed the lease, and the facility's occupational license was listed in his name.
How and when the partners met or hired 46-year-old Robelto Osborne to perform abortions at the Miramar center is also unclear, but his medical past is anything but.
Media reports state that in 1996, Osborne, a five-foot eight-inch, 190-pound Trinidadian, botched an abortion on an eighteen-year-old at an unnamed Hialeah clinic. As a result, the teenager was forced to seek treatment at Baptist Hospital, where doctors repaired damage to her small intestine.
Since then, Osborne has been sued in Miami-Dade for malpractice at least five times.
State records reveal that in January 2000 he performed an abortion on a 41-year-old at a Miami Lakes clinic. Following the procedure, the patient (whose name New Times is not revealing to protect her privacy) complained of severe pain and bleeding. Osborne gave her a shot in the leg to help the bleeding subside. She later made several phone calls to the doctor, and he failed to respond, the records show. The woman subsequently hemorrhaged and ended up in a local emergency room, where doctors discovered parts of a fetus still in her uterus and gave her a hysterectomy.
In August 2004, the state revoked Osborne's license. Media reports show he was fined almost $7000 for failing to perform necessary preoperative procedures on his patients and for not treating a severe uterine perforation. He also failed to return calls to his emergency line, and left fetal remains inside patients. Osborne did not dispute the state's action, records show.
Following an anonymous tip three months later, police began investigating Osborne's involvement at the clinic where Tammy's abortion was botched. In December of that year, they raided the facility and issued a warrant for Osborne's arrest. Patients had identified him from a photo lineup as the man who terminated their pregnancies. Five of the women he treated alleged they ended up in the emergency room.
Senises, the clinic's president, denied any knowledge of unlicensed activity. Neither she, Gonzalez, nor Bazile were subjects of the investigation. Nor were they charged with a crime. But Osborne turned himself in to police three days before Christmas 2004 and pleaded guilty to practicing medicine without a license. In May 2005 he bought a five-bedroom, three-bathroom house valued at $680,000 in the Country Club of Miami. Four months later, a Broward County judge sentenced him to three years' probation.
Even after Osborne's sentencing, almost seventeen miles away at the West Hialeah clinic, it was business as usual. But then, this past July, an anonymous caller phoned Hialeah Police with a disturbingly gruesome story.
Sometime during the afternoon of July 19, an eighteen-year-old Pompano Beach woman arrived at a strip mall on West Sixteenth Avenue and 36th Street in Hialeah. She was an estimated 23 weeks pregnant and accompanied by her boyfriend.
The reason she had come so far for an abortion (her third, according to police) is unclear. She asked that her name not be used and then declined to speak with New Times. But when the young woman stood in front of A Gyn Clinic that day, she likely felt somewhat apprehensive, perhaps even nervous. From north to south, the single-story edifice features a Latin American café, a karate/ballet school, a paintball store, the gynecology center, and a flower shop. Fourteen parking spaces separate the building from the busy four-lane road in front. Across the street is a construction site littered with rubble and trash and surrounded by a barbed wire fence. To the south is a large industrial park.
Below the building's overhang, six-inch black numerals identify the clinic's address, 3671, and pink lettering centered on its heavily barred window spells out the word ginecología. Affixed to the dirty glass double doors are two rusty lock boxes and a series of credit card stickers. Inside, the small reception area is painted off-white. Aside from a sign above the desk that reads "No Checks Accepted," the walls are bare.
When the eighteen-year-old walked in that Wednesday afternoon, she would have signed some forms and then handed over at least $1100 the minimum A Gyn charges for a late-second-trimester termination.
Next, one of the three workers administered an ultrasound and medication designed to begin dilation of the cervix. The young woman was then told to return to the facility the following morning to complete the procedure. During the hours that followed, the medication likely set to work, expanding her cervix enough for doctors the next day to extract the five-and-a-half-month-old fetus, either in its entirety or in parts, with forceps.
But when the pregnant teen showed up shortly after 9:30 Thursday morning, she complained of excruciating abdominal pain. The doctor had yet to arrive, so one of the workers led the ailing patient to a recovery room and, motioning to a pink recliner, told her to sit and wait, the cops say. She remained there for five hours. Around 2:30 p.m., with still no sign of a doctor, she gave birth to a girl in the recovery room. Police contend at least one clinic worker was present.
"The baby was born alive; it was attempting to breathe," says Hialeah Police Deputy Chief Mark Overton, adding that at least one witness, whom he declined to name, confirmed this version of events.
A search warrant issued by Judge Roberto Pineiro (filed with the Clerk of Courts six days after the incident) reveals more about the young woman's experience at A Gyn. "[She] observed the baby moving and gasping for air for approximately five minutes," the document relays. "The staff began screaming that the baby was alive, at which time Ms. Belkis Gonzalez cut the umbilical cord."
Gonzalez dumped the cord into a red biohazard bag filled with chloride, the warrant states, and "then swept the baby with her hands into the same red bag along with the gauze used during the procedure."
The bag was then allegedly thrown in the trash. Gonzalez's attorney, Gregory Iamunno, declined to comment about the incident.
Shortly before 7:00 that evening, an anonymous female called authorities from a pay phone located near the facility and stated a baby had been born alive and then killed at the Hialeah clinic. By the time detectives arrived, the facility was closed. But the following morning, the unidentified caller gave police the patient's information. Shortly before midnight, they tracked down the young woman, and she corroborated the allegations. So at 6:00 Saturday morning, Hialeah Police executed a search warrant.
"We found thirteen or fourteen biohazard bags filled with the remains of kids, but nothing to suggest a 20- to 26-week-old infant body was in the clinic," Overton confesses. Slightly leaning forward over the long wooden desk in his Hialeah office, the veteran officer shakes his head with disdain: "We did a very thorough search, and that body was definitely not there."
Eight days after the alleged incident, authorities received another anonymous tip. The source said the baby's body had been tossed on the roof while the police searched the facility but had since been placed back inside the West Hialeah clinic. Police obtained a second search warrant and raided the facility again. Sure enough, they discovered a badly decomposed female fetus in a biohazard bag, shoved in a nondescript box on the floor one they had previously searched.
By state law, fetal remains must be disposed of according to strict sanitary guidelines. Clinic workers might have been expecting a pick-up service to collect the body, which would explain why it was returned indoors.
"I have never seen anything like this in all my years," Overton laments, eyes flashing with sorrow and rage. "That body was so badly decomposed you could tell it wasn't kept in a cool place ... but it was a baby, not a fetus," he says, adding that the corpse measured approximately twelve inches and weighed between two and three pounds.
Indeed Florida law states a fetus becomes a viable baby at 24 weeks of gestation. According to a fetal weight chart published on www.babycenter.com, the average gestation of a twelve-inch fetus is between 24 and 25 weeks. The average for a baby weighing two pounds is 27 weeks.
According to Overton, this case is about rights. "This isn't about a botched abortion; there never was an abortion, and the mother is not the victim ... she was very nonchalant about it," he asserts in a tone that echoes revulsion. "The victim is the baby, and whether that baby had an hour or eight hours' worth of life, she had a right to that," he says, pounding his index finger on the desk. "Palmetto General Hospital is only five minutes away.
"It is our opinion that this is a homicide, an unlawful killing of a human being."
A Gyn in West Hialeah voluntarily surrendered its license to the state July 31. It has been closed ever since. But a third A Gyn clinic, overseen by Senises, is still in operation. That facility continues to attract patients and plenty of them.
Less than four miles from the now-shuttered West Hialeah clinic is A Gyn Diagnostic Center #3, which Senises opened this past May. And despite the controversy surrounding its sister facility, on recent mornings it was bustling with patrons.
Some of those who journeyed to the dilapidated building located at 267 E. 49th St. arrived with supporters. Others, like nineteen-year-old Maria who asked New Times not print her real name made the trek alone.
The slender, young, doe-eyed woman, whose mother and father hail from the Dominican Republic and Panama respectively, pulled off the busy street shortly after 9:30 a.m. in her mom's silver Chevy. She was moving too quickly to notice that the tattered green awning affixed to the front of the clinic seemed to be hanging on by a solitary nail or that exposed electrical wires poked out from underneath it.
She turned into one of the handful of spaces adjacent to the building barely glancing at the multiple trash bags, used coffee cups, and discarded equipment piled at the facility's back door and parked.
She was late.
"I told him I would meet him here at 9:15," she said nervously, referring to the man whose eight-week-old fetus she was carrying in her womb.
After hastily checking her reflection in the rear-view mirror and dousing her full pink lips with a coat of gloss, she swung open the driver's door and gracefully hopped out. Her blue shorts, tight pink T-shirt, and pale pink flip-flops gave no hint of her pregnancy. And though her flawless mocha skin glistened under the morning sun, the frown line etched into her small forehead suggested she was anxious.
After glancing at her cell phone several times in only one minute, she raised a perfectly French-manicured hand to her forehead and gazed into the distance, silently willing her boyfriend, Javier (also not a real name), to drive into view. The two met in a convenience store this past June, she explained. He is a 31-year-old married Puerto Rican father of three. She is a recent high school graduate who lives with her parents. "He is just such a gentleman, you know, not like most of the idiots my age," Maria professed in heavily accented English, her huge brown eyes glistening with adoration. "I never meet anyone like him."
Javier, who works in construction, took her out to dinner, and soon they began sleeping together. The first time was in his Ford pickup truck. Later they met at friends' houses and motels. Admitting they were not as careful as they could have been, she rubbed her flat stomach: "This was an accident, and my parents will kill me if they find out. But you know how cute this baby would be?"
Javier, she added, said she must get rid of the child or he would never see her again.
Over the next hour, Maria made several calls to Javier's number. None was answered. Growing more distressed, she sat in the parked Chevy awaiting the man, whom she said had agreed to pay for the abortion. In the meantime, several women ranging from teenagers to a dark-haired lady in her early thirties traipsed up the concrete steps into the clinic. Some looked fearful. Others chatted with their chaperones. From behind the wheel, Maria jealously eyed them all. "I wish he would just show up already," she uttered feebly, toying absent-mindedly with the silver ring on her right hand. Then, after a long and thoughtful pause: "I wonder if it hurts?"
For Maria, as is the case with many of the pregnant women who flock to clinics such as A Gyn, pain is less important than quick and affordable termination of the pregnancy. Maria, after all, couldn't afford to pay for it without her married boyfriend's help. So she waited.
But Javier never showed up, and two hours later, she left the same way she had arrived pregnant, nervous, and alone.
Unlike Maria, Tammy went ahead with her abortion that horrible afternoon in 2004 at the Miramar clinic. She remembers being clothed in a gown and her personal belongings neatly stacked in a plastic garbage bag in the waiting room.
A wave of nausea had washed over her. Perhaps it was the Motrin and Percocet pills. Or maybe it was the additional $112 she had paid to abort the second fetus. But then, huddled in a room with fifteen or so other girls, she began slipping into a medicated daze. She heard her name called.
"I was led into this cluttered room," she says, recounting the events that led up to her initial meeting with the man she would later identify from a photo lineup as Robelto Osborne. He did not utter a single word, Tammy recalls.
"He was a black man about five feet five inches ... covered in gold jewelry, not cheap stuff big rings, necklaces, bracelets, a watch," she says. "I had to lie on the table, and he rubbed the back of my hand with alcohol and injected me with something, and I was knocked out."
When Tammy regained consciousness about five minutes later, she was draped in a blanket and sitting in a recliner in a strange room, alone.
"I remember feeling really cold and I just wanted to sleep; I was so weak," she notes. "But I started hearing screams and every not even five minutes a new girl was carried into the room." When the room's eight chairs were full, Tammy says staff members ushered her out with instructions to return in fourteen days for a checkup.
For the next nine days the young mother bled heavily. A second ultrasound on her return visit confirmed Tammy's suspicions that something was amiss. "I was still pregnant," she cries in horror. "[Staff] said, 'Oh, it must be some tissue just floating around in there; we'll just suck it right out.'" Tammy was horrified to learn Osborne would have to perform a second, identical procedure. "He didn't explain what was going on nothing. He did not say one single word to me."
The next white lab coat she saw was on the back of an emergency room doctor at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood. "[He] got really angry and asked, 'Who did this to you? You are really damaged inside,'" she says, her eyes flickering with regret. Hospital staff advised that the abortion was still incomplete and performed an emergency operation to remove fetal remains. They also warned that, as a result of the damage, she might not be able to have any more children.
On September 22, 2005, a judge who sentenced Osborne for practicing medicine without a license ordered him to pay just over $2500 in restitution. Tammy says that amount was to help cover her medical expenses. "I guess I should have been greedy and asked for more money from him," she says. "But honestly I just want to put this whole thing behind me."
The December 2004 Miramar clinic closure in which Osborne botched Tammy's abortion made headlines, but not like the "Hialeah baby on the roof" incident this past July. News of the alleged baby murder spread worldwide, fueling an intense debate about the dark side of legal abortion.
In online chatrooms, pro-choicers argued that such stories are gruesome but rare; they allege thousands of women terminate unwanted pregnancies every year without consequence. They also contend that if the U.S. Supreme Court bans abortion which during the past few years has become more likely it will increase the number of potentially harmful terminations performed in substandard clinics. "Thanks to the Roe v. Wade (1973) Supreme Court decision, women today have access to safe abortions by medically trained professionals, under sanitary conditions," wrote Glenn Woiceshyn on www.americandaily.com. "When abortion was illegal in America, women suffered serious problems from either self-induced or illegal 'back-alley' abortions that often resulted in 'punctured wombs, massive bleeding, and rampant infections.'"
Anti-abortionists argue that methods used to terminate late-term pregnancies are inhumane and should be outlawed. "We, as a nation, can't treat people that way, and those who do need to be held accountable," stated Operation Rescue president Troy Newman on www.operationrescue.org.
Indeed the outcome of the Hialeah incident might hinge on the fetus's degree of development. According to the medical examiner, the mother was between 22 and 23 weeks pregnant, within the legal 24-week limit for most abortions in Florida. If so, prosecutors might find this a clear-cut case of natural death. According to state law, a fetus becomes a viable baby at 24 weeks because the chances of survival are greater. Dr. Paul Norris, assistant professor of gynecology at the University Miami Miller School of Medicine, contends the majority of second-trimester-aborted fetuses die before leaving the hospital. "There are some 24-weekers that survive," he says, "but the odds of them suffering brain damage and deformities are phenomenal."
Before moving forward with the case, prosecutors are awaiting autopsy results, which could take several weeks, says Ed Griffith, spokesperson for the State Attorney's Office. Meanwhile, Hialeah Police are pushing for indictments. "I strongly believe charges will be filed," Deputy Chief Overton says.
Whether the West Hialeah clinic will remain shuttered is unclear. In the meantime, women seeking abortions will venture to other area clinics. Perhaps, like Maria, they will go to the East Hialeah A Gyn, which Senises oversees. Or maybe they will head to a clinic opened in May 2005 that occupies the same spot where Tammy had her abortion. Called Miramar Women's Center, it was opened by Natalie Vergara and Mario Diaz. Though the names might not be familiar, the new owners seem to have something in common with Bazile, Gonzalez, and Senises. Vergara lists the same mailing address as Bazile; Diaz uses one also used by Senises. Moreover, the Women's Center lists Bazile on its abortion clinic licensure application. The doctor is also named on the facility's most recent tax records.
But Bazile is not a suspect in the West Hialeah incident, according to Overton, who strongly believes someone should be held accountable. "We have sufficient evidence [for a] homicide," Overton says. "Whether or not the State Attorney's Office agrees with us is yet to be determined ... [but] if we don't agree with the state's findings, I will appeal it all the way up to the top."
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