L.A. faith healer sentenced to nine years in prison for running unlawful practice

LOS ANGELES – A faith healer was sentenced to nine years in state prison Monday in connection with injecting drugs into a man who later died, authorities said.

Reina Chavarria, 49, was given the maximum sentence after pleading guilty in November to three counts of tax evasion and four counts of unlawful medical practice, said Jane Robison, spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.

Chavarria would have received three to six years in prison if she agreed to pay restitution to the family. When she didn’t, she was given the maximum sentence, Robison said.

Chavarria treated Roberto Caceres, 54, for a persistent rash that caused his legs to swell and his skin to peel by injecting him with vitamins and an anti-inflammatory drug in October 2002.

Caceres later went into convulsions and died. The Salvadoran immigrant’s family said he sought treatment from Chavarria who he believed could use traditional remedies to cure what modern medicine couldn’t.

Chavarria was arrested again in April 2003 while she was out on bail for the earlier unlawful medical practice charge, Robinson said.

Authorities suspected Chavarria was still practicing medicine without a license and set up a sting during which she sold antibiotics to an undercover officer posing as a patient. They later discovered Chavarria owed taxes on about $400,000 in unreported income, Robison said.

Chavarria gained notoriety in the Hispanic community because she was praised by radio host Renan Almendarez Coello for her faith healing services.

Chavarria was initially charged with involuntary manslaughter but the charge was dropped when she agreed to plead guilty to tax evasion and unlawful medicine practice.

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