SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - A 43-year-old man from Lakewood Ranch was arrested last week after police say they discovered he was practicing a health care profession without a license.
Sarasota Police began investigating after receiving a tip that Phillip Stutzman was offering counseling or therapy sessions under the alias “Dr. Phillip Nikao” while claiming to have a Masters in Neuroscience and a Doctorate in Psychology. The tipster told police that they believed Stutzman had no higher education diplomas.
Paperwork provided to detectives showed listings for Stutzman as "Dr. Nikao" on various websites, as well as a business card, which police say stated he had the aforementioned diplomas. There were also videos of Stutzman where he referred to himself as "Dr. Nikao," according to police.
Detectives met with three people. One met with Stutzman between 2016-2019 for weight and anxiety problems, but stopped seeing him after learning he was not a doctor. A second woman said she paid Stutzman around $150 per month, but occasionally bartered with him for services. She told police she believed Stutzman was a doctor. A third person told police she saw Stutzman for five to six months in 2018 for help with her marriage but stopped seeing him when she learned he was not a doctor.
In all three cases, detectives say the women were referred to Stutzman by the same person and that Stutzman presented himself as a doctor. But police say a medical quality assurance investigator with the Florida Department of Health said neither Stutzman or a "Dr. Nikao" were licensed. Police contacted California Southern University and say the university informed them the degrees were falsified with incorrect signatures, an incorrect school seal, and they've never offered a degree in "Behavioral Neuroscience."
“It is safe to say that he came onto them," explained Genevieve Judge, spokeswoman for the Sarasota Police Department. "It’s also safe to say that he was starting to make gestures and do different things and say different things that a doctor wouldn’t be doing.”
Things like speaking about his own sexual encounters and even inviting a client to stay with him in a hotel, according to the police report.
Stutzman was taken into custody on Thursday, June 20 and charged with three counts of practicing a health care profession without a license, which is a third degree felony. He posted a $60,000 bond, but did not answer the door when ABC7 went to his house for comment.
“It’s horrible, it’s a crime," said Dr. Eddy Regnier. "It’s a vicious crime.”
Dr. Regnier is a licensed psychologist and said an incident like this has the potential to do great harm, not only to the victim, but the profession as well.
“When those ethical duties are violated, it puts all of us at risk that people won’t trust us, they won’t come out to us when they suffer," said Dr. Regnier. "And people will suffer needlessly.”
Dr. Regnier said a clinical psychologist usually has three degrees from an accredited institution that are on display. By law, they are required to post their current professional license in a communal area.
Detectives recommends that anyone who is seeking a new doctor does a quick search for him or her on Google and in the Florida Department of Health Database online.
“If you don’t see it, you should ask to see the license,” Dr. Regnier added.
Police say they believe Stutzman was operating between October 2016 and January 2019 and that there are additional victims. If you have any information, call 941-954-7092 or leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers by calling 941-366-TIPS or online at www.sarasotacrimestoppers.com
“It’s heartbreaking to know that someone could do this, could take advantage of these three women but again, we just applaud the three women for coming forward or having the courage to come forward and we would encourage anyone else who might have known this man or visited with him in the last several years to definitely give our detectives a call," Genevieve Judge of the Sarasota Police Department said.