Seattle Surgeon Slammed with $5M Consent Decree

Google and Yelp allowed fake reviews of unethical plastic surgeon to remain up for 18 months, causing damage to thousands of people.

Seattle Surgeon Slammed with $5M Consent Decree

Last week, as a result of Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s 2022 consumer protection lawsuit, Seattle based Allure Esthetic and owner Dr. Javad Sajan entered a consent decree and must pay $5 million in fines and restitution.

In April, we reported that a Federal judge found Allure Esthetic and owner Dr. Java Sagan had violated the  the Federal Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA) and was guilty of wrongly preventing patients from posting negative reviews using illegal NDAs. In addition the state Attorney General's lawsuit accused the business and owner of falsifying online reviews, manipulating before and after images and incentivizing review removal.

AG Ferguson accused Allure of artificially and illegally inflating its ratings on online platforms such as Yelp and Google by posting fake positive reviews while suppressing honest accounts of consumers’ negative experiences. The company forced patients to sign illegal non-disclosure agreements to intimidate patients into removing truthful reviews — or not posting them at all. Allure also ordered its employees to post fake positive reviews.

Consumers Will Get Some Restitution

The consent decree "requires Allure to pay $5 million, approximately $1.5 million of which will go to affected consumers. The rest will go to the Attorney General’s Office for its attorneys’ fees and costs of investigating and litigating the case, future monitoring and enforcement of the consent decree," according to the Washington Attorney General's office. Allure also must:

  • Stop posting or influencing consumer reviews, perform a full audit of all public reviews on Google, Yelp, WebMD and other third-party review platforms, and request removal of every review Allure was involved in creating, posting or shaping in any manner;
  • Remove all misleading before and after photographs of plastic surgery procedures from its website and social media and stop altering photographs of future procedures;
  • Cease use of and attempts to enforce all illegal NDAs and notify patients who previously signed them that they are released from the terms of those NDAs;
  • Pay a third-party forensic accounting firm to perform a full, independent audit of Allure’s consumer rebate program to identify consumers who are owed rebates that were unlawfully claimed by Allure; and 
  • Provide the Attorney General’s Office, upon request, information that demonstrates compliance with the terms of the consent decree for the next 10 years."

How Has Google Responded?

From the inception of the lawsuit in late 2022 until last week, this case has had a very high profile. When we wrote about the Allure Esthetic lawsuit in April 2024 the listing had 917 reviews and a 4.8 rating. Today it has a 4.8 rating and still shows 938 reviews. In other words, Google hasn't taken any action.

Screenshot from July 7, 2024

Allure Esthetic's GBP profile shows a fair bit of abuse on its surface and many of the reviews referenced in the original case are still present. And there is the obvious business naming abuse as well (best plastic surgeon?). The reviews themselves are revealing and speak of the malfeasance of this business.

Clearly Google should have been aware of the abuse and yet it wasn't caught by their vaunted review algorithm – or human moderators. Through its inaction, Google was complicit in an ongoing scam of sending folks to this doctor during for the past 7 years. This is even more true now, post-trial and settlement, given the many illegal and manipulated reviews that still appear on Google.

A Big Enough Fine?

This settlement seems large and holds some good news. The fine is significant and moving in the right direction, and consumers will also see some restitution. It is in fact one of the larger fines we have seen in the area of fake reviews.

However this has been going on for a very long time, at least 7 years. According to the Attorney General, restitution is being made to approximately 21,000 people. That works out to a fine of $238 for every violation. However, more people and more harms were created by this business. Just the lost business experienced by competitors could equate to several million dollars.

Even more problematically, the business and Dr. Sajan's spammy reviews and spammy name remained on Google and Yelp during the 18 months of this case. According to a typical plastic surgeon in Seattle generally makes between $400,000 and $600,000 (and perhaps upwards of $750,000) a year. Given Dr. Sajan's many business locations and operations, it is likely that he is making significantly more than that. While it appears that the consent decree requires an audit and removal of his fake online reviews, it is unclear how long that will take. His listings are presumably still generating traffic and clients and he is still benefiting from his unlawfully earned reputation.

A $5 million dollar fine given his significant, ill-gotten gains might still not be enough of a deterrent.