“We did everything we could in the investigation and getting the facts and being as diligent as we could to bring a case against [Gonzalez],” Overton says. “[But] you can’t just bring a case up without any statutory backing, [and] it was not there. . . . I mean, I looked it up, and I researched it myself, and I had to at the end — unfortunately; maybe I didn’t want to — but I had to agree that . . . the statutes did not support the case we had built or the truth of what occurred there.”67
Instead, Overton says, the state attorney filed other serious felony charges against Gonzalez: tampering with physical evidence and performing an unlicensed medical procedure that resulted in a death.
The case fell apart, though, for reasons that I have not been able to fully determine, despite my interviews with prosecutors, investigators, and others involved. Ed Griffith, a spokesman at the state attorney’s office, said medical witnesses changed their testimonies.
“This case was based on doctors’ testimony and medical evidence,” he says. “The doctors changed their positions leaving us without a prosecutable case.”
When I contacted one of the witnesses in question, he told me he wasn’t aware his testimony had changed at all, adding that more could have been done to investigate the case. The state attorney general could not be directly reached for comment.
Sycloria Williams filed a civil suit alleging that negligent and intentional conduct caused the wrongful death of her daughter. She also claimed that she had sustained bodily injury, pain and suffering, disability, severe mental anguish and emotional distress, loss of capacity for enjoyment of life, medical and other health-related expenses, and other damages.68
But according to her attorney, Tom Pennekamp, no one at the clinic had insurance, and “Sycloria kind of dropped off the map, unfortunately.” Pennekamp withdrew from the case, 69 and, eventually, the court had to dismiss it without prejudice for lack of prosecution.70 Several attempts to reach Williams for comment went unanswered.
* * *
Belkis Gonzalez narrowly missed a murder charge, but by that point, the law had caught up to her for other wrongs.
On August 8, 2006, not long after Williams’s ordeal at the clinic, Gonzalez was arrested. She was charged with unlicensed medical practice, as a result of the earlier investigation that had been prompted by a tip in 2004. But the timing of the charges against her, just after the Williams baby’s death, was not a coincidence, says T. Don TenBrook, who handled the prosecution for unlicensed practice.
“We were aware while my case was pending that there were charges being investigated and contemplated down in Miami-Dade County that appeared to be more serious,” TenBrook says, “and we actually held off for a while in resolving our case hoping to see if, in fact, charges were or were not filed in Miami-Dade. And finally, our case reached a point where it needed to be resolved. . . . the [other] charges had not been filed as of the time we resolved our case.”71
Gonzalez eventually pled no contest to charges that she had engaged in health-care practice without a license, and she was sentenced to five years’ probation on December 20, 2007, with the condition that she was “not allowed to directly or indirectly [engage in] owning, operating, conducting, managing, or being employed or associated with any health care clinic, health care professional office or health care business establishment.”72
Yet when I examined the clinics’ corporate records, they reveal suspicious developments that have never been fully investigated. Tom Pennekamp, Sycloria Williams’s lawyer, alleged in a 2009 complaint that “Belkis Gonzalez and Siomara Senises [have] continued to provide abortion services under the cloak of entities and officers that are mere instrumentalities.”73 Corporate records show that ownership of two of the clinics was passed on to close kin of Gonzalez and Senises. At the third clinic, other questionable events occurred.
The first ownership shift was at the Miramar clinic. In December 2004, as police were investigating all three clinics for unlicensed medical practice, owners Senises and Gonzalez filed articles of dissolution for their clinic in Miramar. Four months later, Gonzalez’s daughter, Natali Vergara, and a man named Mario Diaz filed with the Florida Division of Corporations, establishing an entity called Miramar Women’s Center.
According to Williams’s complaint, Diaz had once been Senises’s husband.74 In 1992, she had filed a permanent injunction for protection against him, citing domestic violence.75 (Diaz and Senises also had a daughter, Natasha, who worked at the clinics, according to the complaint.76) In May 2006, corresponding articles of incorporation were filed, listing Diaz as the vice president and Vergara, who had been present at the Hialeah clinic during the Williams baby’s birth there,77 as the president, treasurer, and registered agent. In 2006 and 2007, Diaz was dropped from the clinics’ leadership, and Senises’s then-husband, Freddy Guzman,78 was added as vice president.79 Neither Freddy Guzman nor Mario Diaz could be located for comment. In 2008, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration fined the Miramar Women’s Center for failing to submit a report of “induced terminations of pregnancy.”80