Mold patient: "We had no mold"
GAINESVILLE, Ga. - Her family moved into a new home. A few months later her hair began falling out.
Coincidence? According to a Gainesville woman's complaint to the state medical board, a self-proclaimed international mold expert wrongly blamed her illness... on her house. A man known as the Mold Doctor.
The title "Doctor" is what multiple patients and former employees tell state investigators Michael Pugliese liked to call himself. He says he's got an alternative health doctorate but never calls himself a doctor. He's connected to a collection of Georgia mold clinics and testing labs that people like Jenny Wright found on the internet.
"It could have been a coincidence," she remembered thinking, talking to the FOX 5 I-Team with a scarf covering her head. "We moved in here in October, 2012. My hair started to fall out in December."
The questions would come in bursts of panic. What was suddenly making Jenny Wright so sick? Her doctors thought it might be a hypoactive thyroid. But last year, Jenny took to the web and found Michael Pugliese offering another possibility. Mold in her house.
"It made me wonder," Jenny admitted. "Not that I've ever seen it, not that it smelled moldy or was dirty in any way."
She and her family of four visited the National Treatment Centers for Environmental Disease in Alpharetta, all submitting samples to Biotrek Laboratories at a total out of pocket cost of a thousand bucks. Husband Jeremy skeptical, but supportive.
"I didn't want to be the reason she wasn't better," Jeremy remembered.
All four urine test results would come back exactly the same. Positive for mold.
"Really?" Jenny recalled. "And I started looking at my husband saying oh my goodness. We've got mold! I'm panicky."
"I thought all this time, I've been wrong," Jeremy admitted. "Here I am, I'm the reason why my wife might not be better."
According to her medical board complaint, Pugliese urged Jenny to get out of the house, throw away all their belongings, and start taking special minerals to help flush all those toxins from her body.
But multiple former employees told the FOX 5 I-Team patients did not get what they thought what they were paying for. One told us those urine mold tests always came back positive. While the federal government did license the Biotrek Lab itself, the Centers for Disease Control calls those kind of urine mold tests conducted there "inappropriate" and "unvalidated."
And as for those special Pugliese minerals, one employee shot video of himself packing the liquids without any gloves or mask, the whole time sitting in the laundry room of an old Gainesville house.
When we tried asking him about this laundry room operation, Pugliese hurried inside the century-old Gainesville house and shut the door. His attorney would only say all those former employees are disgruntled -- two admit they were fired, although they dispute the reasons. The attorney said if the chemicals were put together in a laundry room it happened only once. He would not show us where he claims they were really packaged.
"Making solutions in a laundry room. That should be done under a chemical hood, under sterile conditions," remarked California toxicologist Dr. Jack Thrasher. He has developed a national reputation in mold toxicity research. He told the FOX 5 I-Team he's never been to Pugliese's clinic and has nothing to do with him.
But Jenny Wright told medical board investigators she assumed the nationally-recognized Thrasher was part of Pugliese's operation.
"It said Dr. Jack Thrasher on the back door," she recalled. "We never met a Dr. Jack Thrasher. No one ever opened the door."
"I don't think it was an accident," Dr. Thrasher insisted. "I think it was deliberate. He was using my name to make him look good."
Pugliese's attorney would not respond for comment.
The Wrights loved their Gainesville home, pleased with the neighborhood and the schools. Yet last year they walked around in a daze... trying to decide what to throw away to save them from the mold they were told was making Jenny sick.
"We don't have a lot, but what we have is important to us," Jenny pointed out. "So... it was just heartbreaking."
She says Pugliese told her to hire an unrelated company to come out and test the air inside. She did. The test came back normal. According to her complaint, Pugliese told her that company did the wrong test. So the Wrights paid for a second home air test. That one reached the same result. Normal.
"We were going to lose our home," Jenny stressed. "Lose all of our furniture. All of our belongings. WE HAD NO MOLD."
Nearly four years after moving into the house they love, only Jenny is sick. She's been diagnosed with Hashimoto's disease, an ailment of the thyroid that her doctor told her has nothing to do with mold.
According to her complaint to the medical board, when Jenny tried to ask Pugliese more questions, he told her she had to spend more money: to buy a book that had all the answers. His book. The Homeowner's Guide to Mold.
She says insurance covered most of the cost of their encounter with Biotrek and the National Treatment Centers, but the Wright family is still out of pocket more than three thousand dollars.
Still, Jenny's more worried about others like her who may also go online, trying to solve the mystery of why they're so sick.
"They're desperate," she insisted. "I was. They're having their heart broken. And they're not getting any better."