Eye clinic owner also faces charges

Published March 13, 2007

After her arrest Friday, an obvious question loomed: How did Paula Jean Russian get a job at Perich Eye Clinic in New Port Richey without an optometrist's license?

The answer was simple: By telling her boss she didn't have one.

She and clinic owner Larry Perich worked out a deal: Russian would be a "technician," working under Perich's supervision and his license.

The arrangement worked for 20 years - until it landed them both in jail. Russian, 51, was charged last week with two counts of practicing without a medical license. And Perich, 55, turned himself in Monday to face charges of principal in the first degree - essentially being Russian's accomplice.

Perich, of 17906 Crawley Road in Odessa, was being held at the Land O'Lakes jail Monday in lieu of $5,000 bail.

Perich's attorney, John P. Perrin, says the situation is a misunderstanding. He said Russian had credentials, although he was unsure what they were.

The attorney said Perich was visiting family in Colorado last week when Russian was arrested.

"He is dismayed and disappointed by the allegations against her," Perrin said Monday. "The protocol was that she operated as a technician under a doctor's supervision."

But Russian doesn't have a license, which is required by law in order to practice medicine - including optometry -in Florida.

And Pasco authorities say Russian wasn't supervised in February when she gave eye exams, dilated pupils, wrote prescriptions for glasses and even prescribed eyedrops to undercover investigators.

The investigation was launched after a patient noticed a lack of diplomas or credentials on Russian's walls. The patient called the state Health Department. Officials there had no record of Russian and called authorities.

After the arrests, patients at Perich Eye Center wondered what to think.

Herbert Browne said he'd been going to see Russian since the early 1990s, when Perich ran an office in Palm Harbor. Browne said he saw Russian for an eye appointment six months ago.

"As far as I'm concerned, she is a qualified optometrist," Browne said. "Just because she doesn't have a license doesn't mean she doesn't know what she's doing. She sure had me fooled."