Hollywood Fire-Rescue and State Fire Marshal investigators are looking into a suspicious fire that broke out at a pain clinic where an accusatory message of murder was scrawled on the building's side.
Hollywood police, too, are investigating it as an arson case.
The blaze broke out at Hope Medical & Wellness in the 2800 block of Hollywood Boulevard after 9 p.m. Tuesday, said Hollywood Fire-Rescue Battalion Chief Joel Medina. The fire alarm went off and passers-by called 911 to alert firefighters.
Medina said the damage to the clinic is "bordering on total loss."
Medina said investigators are still working to determine the cause of the fire but called it "atypical." He declined to comment on specific findings that helped investigators arrive at that conclusion.
"It's a suspicious fire. It was not an accident," he said.
What was clear was the message left in fresh red paint on the side of the building: "U KILLED MY SON DRUG DEALER."
Police are looking into whether that message is linked to the fire, said Hollywood Police Lt. Nicole Coffin, who added that the investigation is "very preliminary right now."
"That's definitely part of our investigation," she said.
Medina also said that although a connection has yet to be made with the accusatory graffiti, "everything's in play."
Joy Saghy, who along with two other mothers co-founded Stop The Organized Pill Pushers Now, lamented that a seemingly heartbroken parent would be driven to make such a statement. It makes her "sick" that, if caught, that person could be charged with arson and potentially wind up in jail, she said.
"Who knows what hell that parent went through before they lost their kid? You can't even fathom it, if you've not lived through it," she said.
Janet Colbert, another STOPP Now founding member, said not enough has been done to close pain clinics down, although she acknowledges there have been raids "here and there."
The group holds peaceful protests at local pain clinics but has not had one at the Hollywood site that burned Christmas Day.
"Too many parents have buried too many children," she said. "These doctors are unscrupulous. They're not trying to save lives here."
Investigators are checking whether surveillance cameras captured anything on video.
"I know that there's a significant amount of surveillance equipment in the area," Medina said. "The only way to really be thorough is to make sure to consider every plausible possibility."
The fire also caused smoke damage to the adjoining business, Labor Ready, on the clinic's west side, Coffin said.
The state Division of Corporations lists the pain clinic under Dr. Nader Shehata's name. He said Wednesday that the business was registered to him, but that he never worked at the clinic. Shehata said he did not know the name of the doctor on site and that his son, Mina Abdalla, ran the clinic on his behalf.
Abdalla declined to offer that doctor's name. The Florida Department of Health and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration could not immediately offer information about the doctor registered to prescribe and dispense controlled substances at Hope Medical & Wellness.
Last year, a DEA investigation alleged that Shehata prescribed oxycodone and alprazolam to undercover agents while working at Oakland Medical & Wellness.
His certificate was suspended as a result of that investigation, but Shehata's license to practice medicine in Florida remains active through Jan. 31.
Shehata on Wednesday said he voluntarily gave up his DEA certificate that allowed him to prescribe controlled substances.
He said business at Hope Medical & Wellness had not been going well, he wasn't making any money and had opted to operate just a few days a week.
His son, Abdalla, said he runs the clinic for Shehata and that he was at his Aventura home enjoying Christmas when he was alerted to the fire. He alluded to the motive possibly being jealousy from a competitor, but declined to comment further.
"I think it's a misdirect," Abdalla said. "It makes no sense."
Staff researcher Barbara Hijek and staff photographer Joe Cavaretta contributed to this report.
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