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Which might help explain why, until recently, a Washington Heights woman operated a successful albeit illegal business injecting liquid silicone into the butts, hips, and legs of women seeking a curvier, fleshier look. While other New Yorkers occupied themselves with Buns of Steel tapes, StairMasters, and step classes, Blasina Rodriguez-Luna's female clients were looking for less muscle and more bustle.
Working from a spare bedroom in her Wadsworth Avenue apartment, Rodriguez-Luna, a 50-year-old convicted felon, treated hundreds of clients over the past few years, according to investigators. But the bizarre silicone service was smashed earlier this year when agents raided Rodriguez-Luna's home and arrested her on a federal felony complaint.
Along with a variety of needles, syringes, and topical anesthetics, Food and Drug Administration criminal investigators seized 12 gallons of silicone, a thick liquid the FDA has approved for use only in certain eye surgeries. It is unclear how Rodriguez-Luna obtained the silicone, which is only manufactured by two U.S. companies, neither of which had any dealings with the woman, records show.
Last month, Rodriguez-Luna pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge involving her illegal use of silicone. While sentenced to the three-plus months she had already served in the Metropolitan Correctional Center following her bust, Rodriguez-Luna has remained in custody pending the outcome of an Immigration and Naturalization Service review. INS officials believe that Rodriguez-Luna may have, many years ago, entered the country illegally from the Dominican Republic. Since April 27, Rodriguez-Luna has been held at the INS's Varick Street detention facility.
Contending that his client was not aware that her silicone operation was illegal, attorney Ian Yankwitt said that Rodriguez-Luna did not perform breast augmentations, but worked only "to make the buttocks and the legs larger or more shapely." Yankwitt added, "Many people have queried me as to why anybody wanted to make it larger. But apparently that is a cultural and economic distinction." One source familiar with the case observed, for example, that "in Puerto Rico, 'small-assed' is a very offensive and mean thing to say to a woman."
Federal prosecutor Andrew Ceresney said that government officials discovered no evidence that clients, who were "just trying to become more shapely," were injured in the course of Rodriguez-Luna's treatments. Adverse effects of such injections, the FDA has reported, can "include movement of the silicone to other parts of the body, inflammation and discoloration of surrounding tissues, and the formation of granulomas (nodules of granulated, inflamed tissue)."
Court records show that investigators got onto Rodriguez-Luna's trail with the help of a confidential informant (CI) who told of receiving silicone injections in her hips and calves during two sessions in Rodriguez-Luna's Washington Heights home. According to a search-warrant application, the snitch told agents that Rodriguez-Luna poured silicone from a plastic, gallon-sized container into a coffee cup and "injected it into different areas of the CI's body, refilled the coffee cup, and then injected it into other parts of the body."
When the informant asked if there were any health risks associated with the procedure, Rodriguez-Luna answered that "she had been taught to inject the silicone between the layers of the skin and not into the bloodstream," according to an affidavit prepared by investigator Thomas Dougherty. Rodriguez-Luna noted, however, that "any enhancement in her appearance would be worth the risks."
According to investigators, Rodriguez-Luna charged $300 for each cup of silicone. Like most clients seeking symmetry, the informant paid Rodriguez-Luna $600 for each visit since she had work done on both sides of her body. Federal officials did not estimate what Rodriguez-Luna's illegal practice netted, though the silicone operation appeared to be the woman's means of supporting her family.
After interviewing the informant, a female FDA agent working undercover telephoned Rodriguez-Luna and inquired about the silicone treatment, according to the search warrant. Assuring the caller that "there have been no risks" from the injections, Rodriguez-Luna said that, while she was not a doctor, she had been trained as a cosmetologist in Brazil and Ecuador. Though she circulated a business card carrying the cosmetologist title, Rodriguez-Luna did little else to publicize her business, relying instead on word of mouth and referrals, according to her daughter Emile, who was interviewed by the Voice on Sunday.
Shortly after speaking to Rodriguez-Luna on the telephone, the undercover agent visited her fourth-floor apartment and was given a quick tour and a description of the silicone procedure. The search-warrant application noted that when Rodriguez-Luna asked where her visitor desired treatment, "the Special Agent stated that she wanted injections in her 'butt.' " While it is unknown whether the investigator could have benefited from such illegal augmentation, the "Special Agent then left the premises, stating that she would return."