Special: Hollywood agency hired unlicensed doctor and ex-sushi vendor to test stars for Covid-19

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The AppleTV+ streaming series is called “Truth Be Told”, but the stars Octavia Spencer and Kate Hudson were not told the truth. Only after he was fired did they learn that Lucas Furst, the doctor who was on the set to test her and other actors, producers and crew members for Covid-19, was not licensed to practice medicine in California. The producers of the show did not tell anyone that Furst was a former sushi vendor.

In September, Endeavor Content, the unit of the famous William Morris Endeavor talent show that produces “Truth Be Told,” signed a contract with the Los Angeles-based company Furst to provide medical professionals on set to test Covid-19. The company’s employees tested every two months for two months, some of them daily.

At Endeavor, Furst fired on November 17. The new medical team that replaced him found that an actor he had allowed to work just 24 hours earlier – without any testing – had tested positive for Covid-19.

Since Furst graduated from Xavier University School of Medicine on the Caribbean island of Bonaire in 2009, he is entitled to call himself a doctor and add the initials “MD” to his name. The school’s website still features a graduation photo showing Furst and his 12 classmates this year. But Furst has never had an active medical license, he admitted at an interview in 2019 for a secretarial job. Film producer Matty Beckerman, his business partner at the Medical Placement Association, also told Zenger News that Furst never had a license. Furst did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

Endeavor did not disclose the reason for Furst’s dismissal. Manny Rodriguez, Endeavor’s VP of Production Health and Safety, did not respond to Zenger’s calls, e-mails and text messages asking for comments. Publicists and agents working for Spencer and Hudson also failed to respond to several messages asking for comments.

Beckerman, Furst’s co-founding partner in the Medical Placement Association, denies any wrongdoing by Furst or her company and told Zenger that allegations that Furst acted improperly are “in no way true.

Furst practices “no medicine on set,” but only wipes plaster swabs and crew members for Covid-19 tests, said Cathy Beckerman, an executive of the Medical Placement Association married to Matty Beckerman. California law requires that all such tests intended for laboratories must be performed under the supervision of licensed physicians, which Furst is not. Mr. Beckerman claimed that a licensed physician supervises his company’s Covid-19 tests. He did not name the doctor. A supervisor at One Lab LLC, a commercial laboratory where Furst provided Covid-19 test swabs, confirmed that “Dr. Lucas Furst, MD” and no other physician was listed there as the supervising physician.

Furst and his company charged Endeavor Content nearly $26,000 per week as a fixed cost, according to a copy of a Zenger reviewed contract. The weekly cost of the Covid-19 tests themselves was an additional $150,000 under the same contract.

Furst appeared frequently on Paramount’s Endeavor table of contents. He appears in surgical scrubs in a PowerPoint presentation created by an outside consultant and distributed by Endeavor’s production staff, where he serves as the head of the production “health and safety” team. The PowerPoint deck describes him as a “Chief Medical Director” who has “[w]orked within the hospital systems as a senior physician”. Furst’s most recent profile picture on Facebook shows him at the door of a hospital emergency room with a stethoscope around his neck.

Furst boasted on the Paramount lottery ticket that he had placed a stent in a child’s brain at the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. Dr. Robert Adler, the hospital’s chief physician, told Zenger that Furst had never performed pediatric brain surgery there. “To perform such an operation, you must be a licensed neurological surgeon,” said Dr. Adler. After consulting with his staff, he said, “We have absolutely no record of Lucas Furst.

In its section with class notes (usually submitted by the alumni themselves), the alumni magazine of Furst’s undergraduate alma mater, Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, reported in 2005 that he “graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine in 2002. The local registrar’s office there told Zenger that no one had ever registered there by his name. “[We] have no Lucas Furst in our database as a student, graduate or medical student. Never,” said Christine Zimmerman, the deputy director of registry and registration at the medical school.

To legally practice medicine in the United States, a physician must have an active license issued by a medical association in his or her state or territory. The licensing requirements of the Medical Board of California apply in Hollywood and the rest of the state to doctors, physician assistants, nurses, nurse practitioners and other similar health care professions.

The production of “Truth Be Told” ran at a Covid-19 hot spot, and this week Southern California announced a new round of plant closures and other security measures ordered by state and local governments. Los Angeles County, which includes Hollywood, is experiencing “a sharp acceleration in Covid-19 transmission and hospital admissions,” according to the County Health Department. About 13 percent of all Covid-19 tests in the district return from a laboratory with positive results, the agency reported on December 2.

When Furst became head of the health and safety team for the “Truth Be Teled” set in September, his resume included a sushi-in-the-tube company called Sushi Popper and a failed addiction hospital venture – and $162,000 in credit card debt, according to his 2012 federal bankruptcy filing. Lawsuits in Ohio and New Jersey accused him of embezzling approximately $800,000, based on a February 2019 confession by Furst that he secretly and fraudulently made “substantial and unauthorized distributions of money” from Medical Training Group LLC. Furst’s attorneys later claimed in federal court that he signed the statement under duress. The lawsuits appear to be close to a settlement.

Endeavor Content had day-to-day control over the physical production of “Truth Be Told,” reported Apple+ on financial and creative considerations, and also reported creative decisions to Peter Chernin’s Chernin Entertainment and Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine. Paramount Pictures rented a sound stage and several offices to Endeavor Content, but was not involved in the decision-making process. There is no indication that either Chernin or Witherspoon visited the set.

(Due to Covid-19’s precautions, many television and film productions are “closed sets” where production company executives and producers communicate with their on-set staff via Zoom).

Before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in early 2020, Furst and Matty Beckerman, the cousins of Covid-19, were at a low point. Furst’s plan to help foreign medical students find hospital stays in the United States had long been involved in litigation in which another business partner accused him of embezzlement. In addition, President Trump’s travel restrictions made it difficult for many foreign medical students to visit the United States.

And since none of his film projects were in production, Beckerman looked for innovative ways to use his studio contacts.

He soon found them. After the Californian government of Gavin Newsom stopped film and television production in March 2020, the production unions published a white paper in June that set new minimum safety standards. It was about the studios looking for doctors to assure regulators and unions that they could safely resume production. Since these were new standards, no company had signed the contracts with the studios – an opportunity for Beckerman and Furst.

They signed a contract with Endeavor Content in September 2020 through the Medical Placement Association, their company incorporated in Delaware on March 21, 2019, according to the state’s online company directory.

Endeavor Content was keen to resume production of the second season of “Truth Be Told,” a thriller about true crime that will air on Apple+. On-site testing of Covid-19 began in September. The Medical Placement Association’s wide-ranging contract with Endeavor Content included health and safety planning, pre-production logistics and compliance with union guidelines, according to the contract reviewed by Zenger. The contract provided for up to 1,000 Covid-19 tests per week at a cost of approximately $150,000.

Furst and Beckerman could charge an additional $25,800 per week for personnel and equipment, including $15,000 for operating a union-mandated health and safety unit on set, $5,000 for a health safety officer, $2,750 for training test personnel, $1,560 for “hall monitors” to enforce social distancing, and another $1,560 for cleaning products to sterilize door handles, the contract said.

Beckerman and Furst also provided an a la carte menu at premium prices. For an additional $300,000, the Medical Placement Association offered “Truth Be Told” producers a special mobile lab in a trailer on the set to deliver test results in six hours or less. Beckerman and Furst’s company also offered “concierge testing” at home or anywhere in the United States, with results in 12-24 hours, for $550-750 each. It is unclear how many of these additional services were utilized by the manufacturers, but production costs soon skyrocketed.

Endeavor Content sacked the Furst and Medical Placement Association “abruptly and without explanation” to avoid paying “six-figure sums” in outstanding invoices from her company, said Cathy Beckerman.

Ms. Beckerman also accused Endeavor of firing Furst because he was “a white man. Endeavor “specifically demanded – which they couldn’t put in writing because it’s illegal – they specifically demanded a black woman,” she said, “They thought Octavia Spencer would be more comfortable with a black woman.

Furst’s participation “was an issue from the beginning,” Ms. Beckerman said. “He failed to meet that diversity quota.”

Furst claimed to wear many hats. In addition to selling sushi and co-founding his rehab center in Las Vegas, he wrote on his LinkedIn profile and in an online resume on TheLadders.com, a job-search site, that he was Associate Dean of Clinical Medicine at Avalon University from 2005 to 2013. Until 2009, Furst was still at the Avalon University School of Medicine, which he attended when it was called Xavier University School of Medicine and was operated on Bonaire.

At LinkedIn, Furst claimed that he attended Drexel University from 2000 to 2004 and earned a Master of Health Administration degree there. On the same site he claimed that he earned an MD from 2000 to 2008 and did research at Rush Medical College at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. (He also claimed to have trained as a chef at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, based in Paris).

Drexel and Rush Medical College registrar’s offices forwarded requests for review of student records to the National Student Clearinghouse, which could not find any record of Lucas Furst enrolling in a graduate program at either school.

Furst’s resume on TheLadders.com contained the claim that he graduated from the San Francisco Javier Xavier University School of Medicine, which does not exist according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. This resume also described his most recent position as Operations Director at Axis Clinical Trials, a prestigious medical research company in Los Angeles.

Lydie Hazan, CEO of Axis, a licensed physician since 1994, said she met Furst when he responded to an ad for a low-paid administrative position. “He was not Operations Director,” Hazan said. “He was secretary on the administrative side and had nothing to do with the medical side of Axis,” Hazan said. He worked for me for three weeks in June 2019,” Hazan said.

Hazan added, “He told me he was not a doctor and had never received a license.

She provided Zenger with the resume that Furst showed her during his interview, in which “Associate Dean” was one of his qualifications. It also stated that he graduated from Xavier University School of Medicine, Cincinnati, OH. The list of graduate programs at this university includes a nursing program but no medical school. On the same resume, Furst omitted any mention of a degree from Drexel University, replacing a Master of Health Services Administration from the Medical University of the Americas on the island of Nevis, West Indies.

Shortly after Zenger first contacted his business associates on November 23, Furst deleted the social media accounts that had brought his range of online personalities to life. What remains is his actor and model profile on ExploreTalent.com, a clearinghouse website for Hollywood auditions, where he claims to be a pilot, instructor and skydiver.

“I’ve been in and out of the Bmovie business [sic]for some time,” Furst says on his profile page. “I would like the opportunity to be in a commercial or movie.”

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