CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — John Roberts needed a physical in June as part of the requirements for his life insurance policy, he believed the man doing the exam had a medical license.
But 6 Investigates eventually came to realize that man had been doing a physician's job for years, even though he isn't one.
“I had looked at him and I said 'Oh, are you a doctor?' and he says 'Yes, I am a doctor,' " Roberts said. "He had scrubs on, his name on, 'Villarreal' on it. He had a stethoscope. He had all the necessary uniform for a doctor."
Horacio Villarreal Jr. doesn’t dispute he did the exam. But he said he told Roberts he is an unlicensed physician.
The Texas Medical Board told us unlicensed physicians can not perform medical examinations.
For the last 13 years, Villarreal has also been certified as a medical review officer, a licensed physician who reviews lab tests for different agencies and employers, including companies regulated under the Department of Transportation.
A Texas medical board review in March found that while Villarreal did attend medical school in Mexico, he is not licensed to practice medicine in Texas. Nonetheless, he’s been working here in Corpus Christi.
American Association of Medical Review Officers (AAMRO) Chairman Ted Shults said his company is one that certified Villarreal.
“We did let this one through," Schults said.
AAMRO took a closer look at Villarreal's credentials in April after being contacted by the 6 Investigates team.
Shults said that’s when the group discovered the document provided by Villarreal was a diploma from a medical school in Mexico and not a medical license. They asked Villarreal to provide a license, and when he didn’t, they pulled his certification.
“What was submitted to us we misunderstood as being a license, but it wasn’t," Shults said. "So, to some degree, I do take some responsibility for that, or we take some responsibility for that.”
Villareal declined to go on camera, but said over the phone that he went to medical school in Mexico, but has never been a licensed physician anywhere.
“I guess two, two-and-a-half months ago, I was contacted by AAMRO and they asked me if I had an active medical license," he said. "I said ‘no.’ I said I never have. However, (AAMRO's) director mentioned I could get certified."
Villarreal said once the company contacted him in April, he stopped doing MRO work. Prior to that, he told us one of his jobs was to review lab reports for people taking drug tests at Precision DNA and Drug Testing.
That company, he said, is owned by his wife.
Department of Transportation regulations require MROs be licensed physicians in Canada, Mexico, or the United States.
Atlanta-based Lab Md has a national client base that specializes in the analysis of blood, urine, and tissue specimens.
CEO Michael Daugherty said this DOT requirement is because a specific skill set is required, and the job is an important one.
"Especially with the Department of Transportation, the requirements — we’re trying to protect the public from anyone abusing any drugs or alcohol from operating a transportation system, whether that be an airplane, or a bus, or a delivery system or whatever," he said.
He said the MRO is required to be separate from the lab.
“That independence, and that level of education, assure the integrity of the read and the results," Daugherty said.
Shults said he’s notified the DOT that Villarreal has been operating as an MRO without a physician's license.
But, Villarreal said it’s AAMRO's fault for certifying him. He believed he was following the rules and, because he got certified, he could operate as an MRO. He also told the Texas Medical Board he believed because he was certified as an MRO, he could call himself a doctor.
"I didn’t realize that until they brought it to my attention, and, I mean, you know," he said. "And then they told me, so I stopped doing it."
But, Daugherty said the rules are important.
“It doesn’t matter that you didn’t know," he said. "This is very serious stuff, and you know, the authorities — I mean — it’s the integrity of the system," he said.
“You wonder how he got through so many hoops,” Daugherty said.
In order to become certified, DOT rules require applicants to prove they are licensed physicians to a third party, such as AAMRO. The applicant must then pass a test, and every five years they must get re-certified. That includes a test and a requirement to take continuing education.
"We do our best efforts to make sure they meet the DOT requirements, for this," he said. "And we basically say it’s their responsibility to do that. We just have to have — kinda have — some degree of faith in — we’re getting the straight scoop," Shults said.
We followed up with Villarreal after his visit with John Roberts, and while he acknowledged he made mistakes, he said AAMRO also made mistakes certifying him.
He said he is now following the rules since both the Texas Medical Board and AAMRO have contacted him.