When Randy David Valenzuela, Jr. tested positive for HIV in 2005, he vowed to live his life to the fullest, telling his mother that he was going to find a cure or “die trying.”
For the next seven years, Valenzuela went to the doctor faithfully and was optimistic about his future, but by 2012, his diagnosis had taken a turn for the worse.
“He was diagnosed with AIDS … His doctor gave him a cocktail of pills, four medications that he had to take a couple times a day. The virus was nondetectable with the medication he was taking, but it would make him sick,” his mother, Sandy Dominguez, told “License to Kill,” airing Saturdays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
Searching for an alternative treatment, Valenzuela came across a Craigslist ad posted by Rick Van Thiel, a supposed naturopathic doctor who claimed to treat HIV/AIDS using ozone therapy, a form of alternative medicine that claims to increase the amount of oxygen in the blood and cleanses it of viruses and bacteria through the introduction of ozone.
Meeting with Valenzuela, Van Thiel recommended an eight-week treatment with daily ozone therapy sessions that cost $120 each. Valenzuela decided to give it a shot, and after the first few rounds of therapy, Valenzuela was feeling — and looking — better.
When Dominguez asked her son about the remarkable turnaround, he told her about Van Thiel’s treatments, calling him a “crazy genius” who had convinced him to go off his prescribed medication.
Skeptical, Dominguez agreed to accompany her son during one of his sessions, and her fears were only stoked when they arrived at Van Thiel’s “clinic,” a cluttered, run-down trailer parked in a Las Vegas backyard.
After walking inside, they were greeted by Van Thiel, who, for some reason, was completely nude.
“Dr. Rick pull[ed] out the needle. He put it in my son’s arm, and blood was going everywhere. And at this time, I was like shocked because Rick had no gloves on. Rick just turned to me and said, ‘I don’t fear this virus. I can cure it,’” Dominguez told producers.
Following his two months of treatment, Valenzuela took an at-home HIV test, which are known to be faulty and produce a false negative once every 12 tests, according to “License to Kill.” Still, he and Dominguez were elated by the results — negative.
It was not until later, however, that they realized Van Thiel was no doctor and that his treatments were far from a miracle cure.
Two years later, in January 2015, Valenzuela revealed to his mother that he believed he had contracted HIV for a second time. Dominquez quickly reached back out to Van Thiel, and he had Valenzuela return to the clinic for more ozone therapy.
“It just seemed different this time,” Dominquez told producers. “There was no following a regiment. Rick didn’t have him come every day … My son seemed to be getting worse, not better.”
That May, Valenzuela decided to end his treatment, and he died three weeks later. When Dominquez called Van Thiel to let him know her son had passed away, he simply thanked her for letting him know and hung up the phone.
An investigation in Van Thiel’s practice was not opened until a few months later, however, when Las Vegas police received a tip from the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services. Van Thiel had been accused of conducting unlicensed medical procedures — including abortions — in his trailer, treating everything from cancer to STIs.
A former military man, Van Thiel was already known to the Las Vegas Metro Police Department. He had been arrested several times in the past for violent felonies involving shootings in California and Nevada. He also did not have — and had never obtained — a medical license.
“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 wished to keep his appearance hidden, told producers.
At the time, sovereign citizens were an identified domestic terrorism threat in southern Nevada, and due to Van Thiel’s past and the grievous accusations made against him, the investigation became a top priority for LVMPD, who were assisted by multiple agencies including the FBI.
Digging deeper into Van Thiel’s practice, investigators came across his various Craigslist ads, websites, and YouTube videos, which were “particularly shocking,” said retired FBI agent Bryanna Fox.
In one recording, Van Thiel proudly declared he was not a surgeon and had learned how to perform various procedures by watching YouTube tutorial videos.
“I am not only gonna do it without a shirt, I’m gonna do it without pants, either,” Van Thiel said in one video before stripping off his clothes. In another video, Van Thiel performed a cyst removal on the back of a patient, who can be heard screaming in pain.
Fearing Van Thiel was escalating and would attempt to perform more complex, life-threatening surgeries, authorities obtained a search warrant for the clinic, which was located on the property of another known sovereign citizen.
“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 bloodborne pathogens, disease pathogens was so visceral, it was like the movie ‘Saw,’” Det. Ken told producers.
Investigators also discovered that Van Thiel had been processing multiple patients’ blood through the same ozone therapy machine without cleaning it, potentially exposing them to various diseases and ailments.
Van Thiel was then taken into custody on multiple felony charges, including practicing medicine without a license and drug and weapon possession, reported the Associated Press in 2015.
Continuing their investigation, authorities poured over Van Thiel’s clinic records, and they came across the case of Valenzuela, whose death they believed could have been caused by Van Thiel’s behavior.
“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 told producers.
By examining Valenzuela’s autopsy report, however, prosecutors learned that his cause of death was due to complications from AIDS as well as methamphetamine intoxication. Speaking with the medical examiner, it could not be determined which factor resulted in Valenzuela’s death, and the prosecution chose not to pursue murder charges against Van Thiel.
While awaiting trial behind bars, Van Thiel continued to maintain his innocence and administered medical treatments to other inmates, leading authorities to suspect nothing would stop him from continuing to treat patients without a medical license.
Hoping to secure charges that would land him a sentence of life in prison, investigators examined even more patient files, which is when they discovered an alarming pattern.
“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 told producers.
Van Thiel 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, according to “License to Kill.”
The case was brought before a grand jury, and his trial was set for early 2018. Van Thiel’s victims, however, never had their day in court. In July 2017, Van Thiel hung himself in his detention cell.
The Food and Drug Administration has since prohibited the use of ozone therapy in medical settings.
To learn more about the case of Rick Van Thiel, watch “License to Kill” on Oxygen.com.
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