Connie Cooper wanted to improve her looks. She decided the best way to achieve that goal was to get a tummy tuck.
“I squirreled the money away and saved for it and saved for it,” Cooper said.
The retired Miami-Dade police major went to Vanity Cosmetic Surgery in Miami for a consultation, and ended up paying $8,000 for her surgery up front.
But two weeks before it was scheduled last July, Cooper got a call from the clinic.
“Saying they had to re-schedule my surgery and I said excuse me?” Cooper said. “Why are you re-scheduling? ‘Well the doctor, doctor Fisher, has to go on vacation.’ … Really?”
Vanity Cosmetic Surgery calls itself the largest cosmetic surgery center in South Florida, claiming it treats more than a thousand patients a week. But some patients claim they seem to be more interested in keeping their money than in improving their looks.
“Shame on you,” Cooper said. “How dare you think you can do this and get away with it.”
As it turned out, Cooper is not alone.
NBC 6 Investigators found that nearly 50 people have filed complaints with state and local agencies over the past year. The complaints show a pattern of reported problems with refunds and customers say that in their quest to look beautiful they paid hundreds and in some cases even thousands of dollars for services they never received.
Customers have claimed that when a surgery is canceled even when it’s the doctor who cancels, they can’t get their money back, which range from $400 to $8,000.
Vanity is owned by Ismael Labrador, who has a medical license with the state of Florida. In 2006, Labrador was arrested for hiring unlicensed personnel to give cosmetic injections.
He never admitted guilt but took a plea deal, agreeing to a three-year probation and ordered to pay $54,000 in fines and fees.
Rod Davis, president of the Better Business Bureau of South Florida, says Vanity is not working with consumers in a proactive way.
“It is an outrage and if I’m a consumer like that, I’m outraged,” Davis said.
Davis said consumers would put down a deposit and then Vanity would string them along for 60 days. By then it is too late because most credit cards will not refund your money after that time period, he said.
NBC 6 Investigators requested an interview with Dr. Labrador, but just hours before the interview was to happen, an attorney for the surgery center called to cancel, and provided a statement instead.
Vanity says that a medical condition would have delayed Cooper’s surgery even if they didn’t reschedule her surgery. They also say she signed the clinic's $1,500 cancellation policy, which covers “consultations, evaluations and lab work.”
They say she did not get a refund because she never submitted her refund request in writing, which the clinic say it requires.
But an email she sent the clinic shows she did make a written request.
And nearly a year later after NBC 6 Investigators started asking questions, she got a call from the company offering a $6,500 refund.
“She said to me: ‘If we give you all of your money back will you pull the interview you did with NBC?” said Cooper. “To which I replied well do you understand that you’re trying to do something that’s quite illegal? That’s blackmail.”
So far, Cooper has not received any of her money back.
Vanity says it has received complaints due to its high volume of patients and that “the court has never ruled against us due to the validity of our cancellation policy.”
But a civil suit filed in 2014 shows that Vanity was ordered to refund a customer $1,500 she paid for surgery she didn’t get.
After her experience, Cooper has one thought about Vanity.
“There’s no way on God’s green earth if they gave me the $8,000 back, another $8,000 and did the surgery for free, I won’t let anyone in that organization touch me with a 10-foot pole. Not happening.”