Sovereign citizen Rick Van Thiel carried out medical procedures he learned how to do on YouTube on countless victims.
Rick Van Thiel, a sovereign citizen and self-proclaimed naturopathic, lured many patients to his rundown trailer in Las Vegas, claiming to be a medical doctor. He treated everything from cancer to HIV and STIs, often using ozone therapy, which is supposed to clean patient’s blood. What Van Thiel’s patients didn’t know was the ‘doctor’ was unlicensed to practice medicine and had learned everything he knew from watching YouTube videos. Van Thiel’s patients were often searching out alternative therapies after more traditional treatments didn’t work. They found him on Craigslist and other listing sites.
An investigation into Van Thiel’s practice began after Las Vegas police received a tip from the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services. He had been accused of conducting unlicensed medical procedures out of his his trailer, treating everything from cancer to STIs and even performing abortions. He had a criminal record, and police were already familiar with his name, which had been tied to shootings and other violent felonies.
“Rick was a known sovereign citizen. He believed the government had no say over what he was doing in his day-to-day activities,” LVMPD Detective Ken, who refrained from using his last name, said, adding that such citizens are considered a domestic terrorism threat in southern Nevada, so FBI agents stepped in to assist with the investigation.
Law enforcement discovered Van Thiel’s online postings and videos he recorded, which were “particularly shocking,” said retired FBI agent Bryanna Fox. In one recording, Van Thiel reportedly boasted he was not a surgeon and admitted to learning everything he did from the Internet.
“I am not only gonna do it without a shirt, I’m gonna do it without pants either,” Van Thiel said in one video, while in another, a patient can be heard screaming in pain as the unlicensed doc attempted to remove a cyst.
The investigative team obtained a search warrant for the trailer and premises and realized the situation was far worse than they initially thought.
“As soon as I stepped into the trailer, I realized that we were above and beyond what we thought we were going to encounter. The danger and exposure to blood borne pathogens, disease pathogens was so visceral, it was like the movie ‘Saw,’” Det. Ken said. The faux doctor was performing ozone therapy without cleaning the machine between patients.
“The ozone therapy [is] so far outside the standard of medical procedures that if a real doctor were using them, I would consider it to be malpractice,” retired Southern Nevada Health District chief health officer Dr. Joseph Iser added.
Van Thiel was then taken into custody on multiple felony charges, including practicing medicine without a license and drug and weapon possession. He continued to maintain his innocence from behind bars as well as administer medical treatments, still unlicensed, to other inmates.
“We regularly encountered victims that said that he performed these procedures while naked. He regularly offered female patients sex in exchange for treatment. There were several items of evidence that indicated while he was treating female patients, he was engaged in sexual activity with these patients,” Det. Ken said.
In light of all of the evidence, new charges were later added, and the defendant was ultimately charged with 29 counts associated with the unlawful practice of medicine, sexual assault, sexual assault resulting in substantial bodily harm, and child abuse and neglect. The case was brought before a grand jury, and his trial was set for early 2018, but Van Thiel hung himself in his detention cell.
Deputy Public Defender Scott Coffee said at the time of the defendant’s death, “Everybody’s surprised by it. He’s certainly a free spirit and did things his own way. Custody can be a heavy burden, can be crushing for some people, and it certainly was for Rick. He was trying to litigate his case and had run into a number of brick walls. Rick was one of those people who tried to do what he thought was the right thing. I think he was a guy with a good heart, and I hate to see this happen.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has since forbid the use of ozone therapy in the medical field. “Licensed to Kill” on the Oxygen channel recently covered the story.