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December 3rd, 2003 Taylor Clark | News Stories
 

Hunting Dr. Feelgood

Why is everyone out to get Steven Moos?

     
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At the home of Rick and Candace White, visitors are greeted by 10-foot-tall arched wooden doors. The house looks warm and inviting. But something's wrong here.

Even on a sunny day, all of the blinds are shut but one. Between its slats, suspicious eyes scrutinize all passers-by.

Two weeks ago, when this reporter knocked on the Whites' door after seeing Candace peering through the window, no one answered. Instead, she called the police, telling them a suspicious man was at her door. Why? As she later explained by phone, she's just playing it safe.

"We're really nice people," White says. "We're God-loving, police-loving people. We haven't done anything. But it's been constant drug dealing since the moment he moved in."

The Whites are not alone. Mounted on the roof of a house just across the street is a cylindrical surveillance camera. It's not pointed at the home's front lawn or backyard. It's aimed two doors down the street, at his house. In fact, a quick glance around Southwest Benchview Terrace reveals another camera pointing in that direction. According to White, tapes are rolling 24 hours a day.

This is hardly the neighborhood where one would expect to find residents rallying to stop what they perceive as a dangerous drug house. This is Tigard's Bull Mountain, a neighborhood of million-dollar homes and perfectly trimmed hedges.

And the man that has his neighbors living in perpetual fear isn't some pusher. He's a doctor. He has operated several successful clinics and is adored by his patients. He lives in a $1.1 million Mediterranean mansion, the former home of ex-Trail Blazer Jermaine O'Neal.

He is Dr. Steven Moos, and a group of his neighbors would like nothing more than to see him poking trash on the side of the road in an orange government-issue jumpsuit.

There are others who feel the same way. Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers last month filed suit against Moos for fraud. The Oregon Board of Medical Examiners is trying to permanently revoke his medical license. Police in Tigard and Portland are pressing charges against Moos for drug possession and child endangerment.

Moos' response? He'll welcome you into his home, introduce you to his lovely wife and four children, and calmly explain that he is the victim of a slander campaign that is completely out of proportion with his minor offenses.

"Initially, I think there were just mistakes and misconceptions that started a domino effect," he says. "Now, they do anything they can to make us miserable."

Bull Mountain is a pleasant place. The streets are wide and spotless. Manicured blades of grass cheerily wave hello, while the gleaming luxury cars sneer. McMansions pack the sidelines, their charming brick façades and gold door-knockers situated in the most non-confrontational way.

Look to the east and you'll see a view so expansive, it almost gives you vertigo. The valley stretches below like a green sea.

"This is a great neighborhood, full of hard-working people," says White, who moved here with her husband in May 2001. "It's a very desirable place to live."

At least it used to be, before he moved in a few months later. Now, she says, the noise of parties and the sightings of drug deals are facts of life.

White and other neighbors say Moos made his introduction to them on Halloween 2001, when he showed up uninvited to a neighborhood get-together. Over the din of the guests, Moos announced that he had Viagra and any other prescription drug they might want.

Within a month, neighbors noticed that large groups of strangers would regularly arrive at Moos' home in the middle of the night and not leave until dawn. They would see unfamiliar cars stop for five minutes, then leave.

Though the neighbors had no evidence that Moos was doing anything criminal, they grew suspicious. Residents began calling Tigard police, but it was an ill-fated winter 2001 party at the Moos home that led to special attention from the cops.

According to police reports based on interviews with three attendees, Moos and his wife, Sopaul, invited about a dozen acquaintances to their home for a dinner party on the night of Dec. 7. Midway through the evening, say the reports, Moos announced to his guests that he had an array of sexual-stimulant products available, including 10 amber vials of what he called "liquid Viagra."

Guests told police investigators that after drinking the "liquid Viagra," two female partygoers vomited and found themselves unable to move. One of the two, a 34-year-old West Linn woman, later filed a police report in which she claimed she blacked out that night. According to the report, when using the bathroom the next morning, the woman found that when she "went to wipe, it hurt." She soon discovered bruises and abrasions on her inner thighs and vagina, and found that the tampon she was using had been pushed up deep inside her.

The woman asked her husband if they had attempted to have sex the night before. When he said they hadn't, she rushed to Meridian Park Hospital for an examination and reported to Tigard police that she had been raped by someone at the party. Police reports claim that the woman's symptoms were "consistent with the symptoms of someone who has...overdosed on GHB," a date-rape drug. Reports say Detective Kevin Dresser interviewed Moos about the incident inside his home, but learned nothing from him about the rape. Dresser says he soon ran out of leads, and no charges were ever filed.

By spring 2002, residents began turning the surveillance cameras they already owned outward to track Moos' suspicious activities.

"He's a threat, frankly," White says. "We're doing everything we can to protect ourselves."

Residents also began working together to create a neighborhood log of every person and car license plate that came near the Moos house. They later turned this log over to police.

Some of these entries describe alleged drug activities. In one dated June 30, 2002, a neighbor outlines an incident involving a dark GMC Yukon Denali SUV that parked on their street late at night. The neighbor claimed she could clearly see people doing drugs with butane torches inside the car from her master bedroom window. The log says she called Tigard police that night and again the next morning, when she spied those same people taking suspicious-looking bags into Moos' house. Tigard police have records of her complaints on file.

The neighborhood log does more than just detail suspected drug activities; it also intimates that the alleged drug use is interfering with the Mooses' parental duties. In the log, a neighbor describes the four children, aged 3 to 7, saying "they cry, they urinate on each other on the front yard of the neighbors house, they roam the streets naked, barefoot and in the middle of the night unattended."

Sometime in 2002, Dresser put in a call for help to Portland Drugs and Vice officer Michael Krantz, whose bureau often investigates cases outside the city.

Krantz conducted surveillance on Moos' home from an unmarked car on a few different nights and even pulled his trash three times, but turned up nothing. At the same time, Krantz began hearing Moos' name more and more often in connection with drug distribution.

According to Krantz's case reports, when Krieg Kjer--the receptionist at Moos' Tigard clinic--was pulled over and caught with cocaine in September 2002, he told police he got the drugs at Moos' house. Reports also tell of another man in trouble for drug distribution who linked Moos to suspected dealers with names like "Tony Ringring" and "Baby J" that same month.

Early in the morning of Jan. 17, 2003, armed with a search warrant, 28 police officers stormed the Moos home. After ransacking the house for seven hours, officers found the following: one small bottle that was half-filled with ketamine (an animal tranquilizer popular as a club drug), two tablets of ecstasy and one vial containing amphetamine. Later, in a raid conducted at Moos' clinic, officers found a small baggie of cocaine and an amber prescription bottle containing marijuana.

A sparse haul, but it was enough to charge Moos and his wife with possession of controlled substances and child endangerment, which resulted in the removal of their children by state child-welfare workers for over two weeks. They face trial on these charges in Washington County court in January. Moos has hired lawyer Marc Blackman to represent him.

But to the neighbors' disappointment, the two face little more than probation if convicted. The cancer on their pristine neighborhood remains.

The object of this ire is scarcely the person you'd expect to meet after hearing the neighbors' characterizations. Dr. Moos is young--only 34--intelligent and serious. He seems too humorless ever to play host to all-night, drug-fueled raves.

"I have been accused of perversions so improbable it is laughable," says Moos. (It's pronounced "moss," not "moose.")

Inside Moos' 7,700-square-foot home, everything is impeccably clean and tidy, from the white carpets to the hospital corners on the beds. For a man with four young children, there are no toys lying on the floor, no discarded juice boxes strewn about.

Moos grew up in Grants Pass, went to college at Oregon State and medical school at OHSU, and later practiced alongside his urologist father at his hometown clinic. His wife, Sopaul, 35, is a former refugee who fled the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia as a child.

Why, WW asked Moos, is he the focus of so much negative attention? Moos claims it's partly because he "practiced unconventional medicine" that "unintentionally alienated [him] from the mainstream medical community." He's referring to his work at his Tigard clinic, Frontier Medical Center.

While Moos does provide primary care, his bread and butter is what some would call vanity medicine--issues like weight management, hair loss, Botox injections and sexual potency. Moreover, Moos thinks the charges against him are the product of officials who are "set upon their own political advancement."

Sopaul has other opinions.

"A lot of this is because we have had some parties here," she says. "I'm very liberal and I know all kinds of people, you know? But these neighbors...."

These are the people they hold responsible for their kids' temporarily placement in foster care. Moos dismisses the neighbors' reports as "groundless and grossly embellished" stories from "intolerant, all-white, childless couples."

On cue, the Moos children--Enthanu, Manoria, Choomno and Chandra--come downstairs at once and pile onto the couch in a photogenic ball.

"Do these look like kids where the parents endangered them?" Sopaul asks. She tries to get the kids to talk about foster care. They squint their eyes and shake their heads.

"Can I go yet?" asks Enthanu.

The police raid at Moos' home caused much more than the temporary loss of his children. It also gave a handful of government agencies the encouragement they needed to finally put him out of business.

For at least three years, Moos has been targeted by the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners, the state agency that licenses and disciplines doctors. According to the BME, this is because in the late 1990s, Moos used the Internet to sell prescriptions for drugs like Viagra and the hair-loss medication Propecia. After completing a brief online questionnaire, customers could get access to drugs without a pesky face-to-face visit. According to documents provided by the BME, Moos signed 150 to 250 prescriptions a week at his business's apex, clearing upwards of $100 with each swipe of the pen.

While almost everyone who has an email address sees a daily deluge of invitations to purchase prescription drugs, the practice violates the ethical guidelines of every medical board in the country. According to BME director Kathleen Haley, a doctor must have a face-to-face visit with a new patient before prescribing any medication.

"There is a standard with the board and in the community that before prescribing drugs, a doctor must do a physical exam, take the patient's medical history, and get the patient's records if possible," Haley says.

Moos did none of these things, she claims. So in March 2000, the board fined Moos $5,000 and put him on 10 years' probation for his conduct. He's the only physician the state has ever sanctioned for Internet drug sales. To avoid further punishment, Moos pledged that he would abstain from dispensing any medical products or services over the Internet.

Haley acknowledges that Moos isn't the only doctor in the state who sometimes writes prescriptions without face-to-face visits. But at least doctors who give their patients scripts over the phone have an established relationship with them and know their medical history.

"He's never seen these people before," she says. "If there were some dangerous mixture of their medicines, he wouldn't know it."

By January 2002, Moos was back on the Internet, this time with a product of his own: "Viaglide," a topical sexual cream for women sold for $19.99 a tube, which he claimed was "made with the same active ingredient found in Viagra."

That Moos dared market another product over the Internet after his probation agreement was about equal to giving the BME the finger, in their view.

"The word 'incorrigible' comes to mind," Haley says. "I've been with the board for nine years, and I've never seen a case like this."

But Moos had found an artful way around the BME by marketing a product that didn't require a prescription. Indeed, Viaglide doesn't contain the active ingredient in Viagra, sildenafil, at all. It is essentially just a menthol rub. Not that his website revealed this information.

In January 2003, citing the presence of illegal narcotics in Moos' house, the BME suspended his license to practice medicine. It also contacted the Oregon attorney general's office, asking for help.

On Oct. 23, the attorney general filed suit against Moos for fraudulent claims on the Viaglide website. If Viaglide contains sildenafil, the suit says, he's selling a prescription medication without a prescription. If not, he's guilty of false advertising.

"There are a million things at issue here," says AG spokeswoman Jan Margosian. "This guy is amazing!"

The argument may be valid, but it's clear that the targeting of Moos was personal. If AG Hardy Myers wanted to sue every business that made untruthful claims about its products, he would need a staff of hundreds of people working around the clock. But Moos was a special case, as shown in an email about Moos from the Department of Justice's Warren Foote to BME's Haley, dated three days before the suit was filed.

"This effort is going to accomplish what a license revocation cannot do--which is to put him out of business," Foote wrote. "As we have learned, even an emergency suspension does little to slow him down."

Margosian similarly doesn't mince words when it comes to Moos.

"We want him out of business," she says. "We want to protect people from him."

All the attention has given Moos a bit of a persecution complex.

"Who have I harmed?" he asks. "I have at least seven agencies investigating me, and my direct expenses for these battles are becoming unmanageable--and I haven't even gone to trial yet."

The police presence in particular, Moos claims, is absurd.

Indeed, the day WW visited Moos' home, there were police outside. Darrell Danner, who does odd jobs for Moos, had just been issued a ticket for parking more than 12 inches away from the curb.

"Even when you're not breaking the law, how do you feel when a cop is tailing you?" Moos asks. "That's how we feel here, with police always sitting outside our house."

There are no drugs in his home, Moos says, save those he is allowed to have as a physician. He has admitted to police that he's given out Viagra to his friends without a prescription, but that's the end of it. As for the alleged rape at his home, Moos says he took and passed a lie detector test about that, claiming he knew nothing about what happened.

Moos calls the search of his home "unlawful" and claims that the drugs in his home were found in a separate dwelling that he rents out. As for the drugs at his clinic, Moos says he knows where those came from, too.

He explains that the cocaine found in his office was tucked away in a box used to store record needles. "My cocaine-addicted secretary was a DJ," he says. "You assign likely ownership."

Moos admits that he has used illegal drugs in the past, but he says they have never interfered with his work. He says the BME's drug tests turned up a false positive because of lidocaine, a pain medication he used daily.

"I have never practiced inhibited by, or under the influence of, any illicit substance," Moos says.

As evidence of his capability as a physician, Moos points to happy patients like Dan of McMinnville. Dan, 61, went to Moos for five years and claims he was the most competent doctor he had ever dealt with.

"He really knew what he was talking about," Dan says of Moos. "He was always very thorough. Most doctors would brush you off, but he would take the time to explain things and go over them with me."

Moos is prohibited from practicing medicine, but he still manages his Tigard clinic, where his father, Dr. Mitchell Moss, sees patients seeking everything from primary care to hair-loss treatments.

Despite the upcoming trial on drug charges and the separate lawsuit by the attorney general's office charging him with fraud, Moos is stoic.

"Our legal counsel has advised that the only road back to a normal life and to possibly practicing medicine again would be to become a selfless philanthropist for a few years, and then hope the medical board will have a change of heart about me," Moos says.

Back on Bull Mountain, where Moos is not likely to be invited to a neighborhood potluck anytime soon, things remain tense. Moos once offered to let his neighbors buy his house if they wanted him out that badly, but considering all his family has gone through there, he has decided to rescind the offer.

"We want to stay here," he says.


Distrustful homeowners can get closed-circuit surveillance camera systems for as little as $139.95 at websites like www.easyhomesecurity.com .

Much of Bull Mountain is in unincorporated Washington County. The city of Tigard is currently trying to annex the entire area to broaden its tax base.

Viagra is becoming popular as a companion drug to illegal narcotics. Because Viagra dilates blood vessels throughout the body, which leads to heightened reactivity to other drugs, using it can increase a person's high.

Until recently, Moos advertised his Botox services in Willamette Week.

In phonetic Khmer, the names of Moos' children mean "rainbow," "lightning," "wind" and "moonlight."

The practice of cornering a doctor on the street and casually pressing her for prescription medication is called "curbsiding" within the medical profession.

Pfizer, the maker of Viagra, sued Moos' company over the "Viaglide" name, claiming that they had the rights to any product beginning with "Viag." Pfizer lost and Moos was granted the trademark.

The attorney general's suit also names Thomas Holeman, another doctor who worked in Moos' office. In 1975, Holeman was caught transporting 1,100 pounds of marijuana on a plane from Mexico to Arizona.

 
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