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A-list doctor's star has faded

Dermatologist faces a medical board probe, money woes and poor health

January 01, 2012|Harriet Ryan
  • Dr. Arnold Klein, who once treated Michael Jackson, blames money trouble on ex-employees.
Dr. Arnold Klein, who once treated Michael Jackson, blames money trouble… (Matt Sayles, Associated…)

For three decades, Dr. Arnold Klein drew the rich and vain to his Beverly Hills dermatology office. Trophy wives, industry bigwigs and A-list actresses glided through a reception area decorated with $1-million Warhols to have their laugh lines smoothed and their lips plumped.

Presidential administrations came and went. Cassette tapes gave way to iPods. But in the eyes of clients, "Arnie" remained the same: Charming, immaculately groomed and as puffed up about his mastery of the Botox needle as he was about the jet-set life he enjoyed with star patients-turned-pals like Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, January 06, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 2 inches; 66 words Type of Material: Correction
Arnold Klein: An article in the Jan. 1 Section A about Beverly Hills dermatologist Arnold Klein misspelled a region of the upper lip partly named for him as the Gloglau-Klein point. It is the Glogau-Klein point. Also, the article said one of his residences is a $9-million Hancock Park mansion. Though bankruptcy documents list it in Hancock Park, the home is in the Windsor Square neighborhood.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, January 08, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 2 inches; 66 words Type of Material: Correction
Arnold Klein: An article in the Jan. 1 Section A about Beverly Hills dermatologist Arnold Klein misspelled a region of the upper lip partly named for him as the Gloglau-Klein point. It is the Glogau-Klein point. Also, the article said one of his residences is a $9-million Hancock Park mansion. Though bankruptcy documents list it in Hancock Park, the home is in the Windsor Square neighborhood.

The perfect face Klein long presented to the world is now sagging. The man once touted as the "dermatologist to the stars" is bankrupt. Palatial homes where he entertained celebrity clients are in foreclosure. Mementos bestowed by grateful Hollywood friends are to be auctioned off to pay bills. And what may be Klein's most treasured asset, his reputation as a physician, has been called into question.

At the trial of another Jackson doctor this fall, Klein was portrayed by defense attorneys as an unscrupulous enabler who fueled the singer's addiction with enormous doses of Demerol that served no valid medical purpose. Dr. Conrad Murray was convicted, but after the verdict, Klein acknowledged publicly that he was under investigation by the state medical board.

"You hate to see somebody who was so good fall to such low levels," said Dr. David Rish, who shared a Roxbury Drive office with Klein for two decades and is now among his many creditors.

How he got there is a story with many wrinkles. Klein, 66, declined to comment. In bankruptcy filings, he has blamed his financial problems on two former employees who he alleges embezzled more than $8 million.

"The assets that Dr. Klein worked long and hard to build have been decimated," one of his attorneys wrote in a June suit against the employees that described the doctor's state as "a position of financial ruin and immediate peril."

The accused employees deny any wrongdoing and note that they have never been questioned by law enforcement or charged with a crime. An investigation of Klein's allegations by the U.S. Secret Service, which is responsible for maintaining the integrity of banks and other financial institutions, resulted in no charges, the agency said.

"Everything that happened on my watch was approved by him," said one of the accused, accountant Muhammad Khilji, who has countersued Klein for defamation.

He said Klein insisted on maintaining a lifestyle of chauffeured cars and shopping sprees even as his business fell off to the point that he could barely cover office rent. In the three years he worked for the doctor, Khilji said, Klein used more than $7 million on "personal luxury spending," including $800,000 for vacations and $550,000 for cars.

"Maybe it's time to look in the mirror, Dr. Klein," Khilji wrote last year in a resignation letter he provided to The Times.

The second employee, former office manager Jason Pfeiffer, is countersuing Klein, alleging sexual harassment and other claims. In court papers worthy of an NC-17 rating, his lawyer wrote that Klein's medical career took a back seat to his sexual pursuits. The suit alleges Klein "required Pfeiffer to assist him in his search for sex partners, often for hours each day or night."

Klein has denied the allegations in both former employees' suits. The tawdry accusations and money struggles are a far cry from his long-held reputation as a medical pioneer and philanthropist. Klein helped develop a technique for using Botox to reduce wrinkles in the 1980s and later devised the procedure for lip augmentation. (A region of the upper lip -- the Gloglau-Klein point -- bears his name.) His practice became an entertainment industry favorite. With Taylor and others, he became an early advocate and fundraiser for AIDS research.

Cosmetic dermatology made him wealthy. He split his time among three homes -- a $9-million Hancock Park mansion, a $12-million oceanfront estate in Laguna Beach, and a $1.6-million Palm Springs retreat -- each painstakingly decorated with pieces from an art collection recently appraised at $7.2 million, according to court papers. He had a personal chef and a garage of luxury vehicles, including a Ferrari, a Rolls-Royce and a Bentley, public records show.

The wealth allowed Klein to give generously to a host of causes, volunteer as an unpaid professor at UCLA and support his disabled brother. He has said in court papers that he didn't realize he had any financial problems until August 2010, when his American Express card was declined. The two employees he blamed for his insolvency said they had been warning him for years that he was sinking into debt.

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