The Secret Sex Workers’ Database That Brought Down a Plastic Surgeon Accused of Rape 1

After a high-end escort in Los Angeles believed she was drugged, raped, and filmed without consent by an Ohio plastic surgeon in town for a conference, she logged onto a secret database that women use to warn each other about predatory men.

She saw several horrifying reviews of Dr. Manish Gupta, a flashy Toledo doctor who drove a blue Maserati and regularly flew to medical conferences in cities around the U.S.

“Dr. Manish Gupta drugged me during a date, raped me and recorded all this terrible even on video. His medical license should be suspended,” one review on VerifyHim.com said, according to court documents.

“Raped me during date… he also recorde [sic] a video,” another said.

“Very dangerous,” another said.

Others flagged him as a drug user, as wanting escorts to use drugs, and as overstaying his time for a session, The Daily Beast learned. Some reviews dated back to 2013, years before the Los Angeles escort’s encounter.

It would start a chain of events that ended with the arrest of Gupta last week, accused of illegally using clinical drugs—including the horse tranquilizer ketamine—to drug sex workers, sexually assault their motionless bodies and secretly film it. He kept the videos, one filmed as recently as December 17, 2019, on SD cards in a medical bag with sex toys, syringes, tripods and cameras, Viagra and narcotics—all stashed in his locked office, the FBI said in an arrest affidavit filed in federal court for the Northern District of Ohio on Monday.

Such online databases are vital for sex workers’ safety, but they’re moving further and further underground in the wake of the so-called SESTA/FOSTA laws signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2018 that make it illegal to knowingly assist, facilitate, or support sex trafficking. Sex workers say it conflates sex trafficking with consensual sex work and potentially criminalizes anything they do, even posting about work online.

VerifyHim.com requires users to pay for membership, is hard to join without an invitation and, in light of SESTA/FOSTA, now requires lengthy verification. It’s one of a handful of closed-door screening sites that not only protect sex workers but, as the Gupta case shows, can be crucial for securing arrests.

“People are more hesitant to use them now because they don’t want to be accused of promoting prostitution,” said Phoenix Calida from the Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA. “That’s how predators are able to continue for so long. There were complaints lodged about this person being a bad date a couple of years before the person who went to the police was assaulted.”

Gupta, a high-profile surgeon who even publicized his own surgery-assisted weight-loss transformation, owned three Artisan Cosmetic Surgery clinics in Toledo and Oregon, Ohio, and Taylor, Michigan. He flew to conferences annually in Miami, Chicago, Colorado, Detroit, and California.

During a medical conference in L.A. in 2016, he hired a high-class escort, known only as K.B., to go to dinner with him then spend the night at the Ritz Carlton, the FBI said. Over emails, she said she didn’t permit him filming her. “My privacy is paramount. And I won’t be comfortable with being filmed under any circumstances,” she wrote in emails later obtained by the FBI.

According to the FBI affidavit, K.B. believed he slipped a drug into her prosecco because she woke the next morning with little memory of the night. She didn’t report it to police but took an in-home drug test, which found benzodiazepenes in her system, and she visited the Rape Treatment Center at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, where she had a rape kit exam performed. Both tests were later obtained by the FBI.

The FBI investigation revealed that employees had suspected Gupta as far back as 2013 . That’s when a woman called the surgery clinic to say she’d been drugged and raped by Gupta, who blew it off as an extortion attempt, the FBI affidavit said. Employees also one day found the doctor’s black medical bag filled with sex toys, lubricant, empty anesthesia bottles, syringes, lingerie, a blindfold, a tripod with camera, narcotics used to sedate patients before surgery, and drugs like ketamine that were never used for plastic surgery procedures, employees told the FBI.

Another employee allegedly found 10 to 20 SD cards with videos of Gupta having sex with seemingly unconscious women. They “became scared” and didn’t know what to do, the FBI affidavit said. However, rather than report him, one employee contemplated using the information to extort money from Gupta. The SD cards were only handed over to the FBI when agents got a search warrant in December 2019, showing videos filmed just days earlier.

The investigation ramped up in late 2019 after a sex worker victims’ advocate began collating accounts of women who’d been drugged, raped, and videotaped by Gupta. During Gupta’s first court appearance on Monday, U.S. Assistant Attorney Tracey Tangeman said there were 20 different victims in Gupta’s videos.

On Tuesday, Kimberley J. Schwarting from the FBI’s Cleveland Office said they hope media coverage of Gupta’s arrest will encourage more victims to come forward. “We want to remind them that they can contact the FBI anonymously,” she said.

But Calida, from Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA, said the new laws make it even more unlikely sex workers would report assaults.

“Sex work is heavily criminalized in this country, there’s honestly a good chance that if you report to police you’re at risk of being arrested yourself,” she said. “We do the best we can to screen [clients] but it’s incredibly difficult. Even sharing this information [on databases] can be seen as criminal, it’s really scary.”

Both Artisan Cosmetic Surgery and Gupta, through his lawyer, declined to comment.