The transgender woman whose silicone injection killed popular Atlanta entertainer Lateasha Shuntel was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison.
Federal District Judge Orinda Evans handed down the 135-month sentence to Deanna Roberts (second photo) on Friday after a two-day hearing in downtown Atlanta. In March, Roberts pleaded guilty to eight felony counts – four counts of possessing, transporting, and illegally injecting persons with liquid silicone and four counts of introducing liquid silicone into interstate commerce – in connection to the silicone injections she administered to Shuntel in November 2015 and three other women.
Shuntel – a popular transgender entertainer and bartender at Blake's identified in court documents as Lateasha Hall – died two days after the injection.
Evans sentenced Roberts to 135 months on one of the eight felony counts and 36 months on the other seven counts to be served concurrently. Federal prosecutors were seeking a 14-year sentence for Roberts, which was at the upper limits of sentencing guidelines. Roberts' public defender, Colin Garrett, asked the court to impose a sentence of five to seven years.
"It is very hard to resolve what the appropriate sentence is. It is an unusual case," Evans said. "Ms. Roberts had a lot of warnings but kept doing what she was doing. I think she is remorseful now."
Veta Hall, Shuntel's mother, sat through the two-day hearing with her son, Paul. They both delivered emotional statements to the court before Roberts was sentenced.
"She gave a lot to the community. She gave a lot to me. She was the most loving child," Veta Hall said. "If you ever had met her, you would understand why we have lost so much in our family."
Shuntel's brother said his two-year-old son will never be able to meet his aunt.
"Lateasha was a good person. Lateasha was an icon to Atlanta. Everybody that met her loved her," Paul Hall said. "She was impacting everybody's life."
'One stick really hurt. Tears came down my face.'
The sentencing hearing opened Wednesday and stretched for several hours as Assistant U.S. Attorney William McKinnon questioned five LGBT people – including three transgender entertainers – about receiving silicone treatments from Roberts to enhance their face, breasts, buttocks and other body parts. Several of them described how they became friends with Roberts after repeated treatments until one of their injections resulted in medical complications. Some of the women said they nearly died after the silicone shifted into their bloodstream or settled in their lungs.
The witnesses also offered emotional testimony describing how they sought treatments from Roberts based on the recommendations of friends and other transgender entertainers. They discussed how Roberts portrayed herself as a medical professional, bragged about her skills with silicone injections and the thousands of dollars they paid her over years of treatments administered in bedrooms and apartments in cities across the Southeast, including Atlanta, Birmingham, Jacksonville and Orlando.
"She was working her tail to the bone," Jason Hill said in court.
Hill met Roberts in 2007 to receive silicone injections to his lips, chin and biceps. He later worked for Roberts and drove her around the South to meet clients for the silicone treatments. He said Roberts would perform the procedures on 10 to 12 people a day and received $2,400 to $2,800 for the work. Prosecutors alleged that Roberts was paid nearly $2 million for silicone injections in the 12 years they said she performed the procedures.
Hill said he later suffered complications from a silicone injection Roberts gave to his arm, leaving his left bicep malformed. When he discussed with Roberts the complications that other clients encountered after her treatments, Roberts blamed the victims.
"All of these AIDS infested mother fuckers are getting what they deserve," Hill said Roberts once told him. "It's not coming from nothing I've done."
The transgender women who testified on Wednesday broke down in tears as they recounted how they nearly died after silicone treatments from Roberts, who sat nearly motionless during the testimony. Roberts, her legs shackled, was dressed in an orange sweatshirt and pants.
“One stick really hurt. Tears came down my face,” Desiree Roberts said about a June 2010 silicone injection administered to her in Deanna Roberts' home in Sanford, Fla., which is near Orlando.
Desiree Roberts said she paid Deanna Roberts between $15,000 and $20,000 for treatments between 2005 and 2010. But after an injection in June 2010, Roberts said she was short of breath. On her drive home, she became violently ill and by the next morning, she couldn’t raise her arms.
So Roberts went to a nearby hospital where she stopped breathing and suffered respiratory failure, she said in court. She woke up six weeks later on life support and ventilator. Doctors said they found silicone, mineral oil and cocaine in her blood stream.
“I guessed she numbed me with it. I’ve never done cocaine,” Roberts said.
Roberts lost 74 pounds during her stay in the hospital and amassed $274,000 in medical bills.
Roberts said she sought out injections from Deanna Roberts instead of a plastic surgeon over cost.
“I didn’t have the money,” she said.
She knew nearly 20 friends who received procedures from Roberts. And until her near-death experience in 2010, Desiree Roberts said she was satisfied with what Deanna Roberts did.
“My breasts were getting bigger, so I was happy with it,” she said.
But seven years later, Roberts said her breasts provide a visual reminder of how that last procedure went awry.
“They are all blue and black and purple,” Roberts said.
'She and I both knew I was in trouble'
Amber Scott testified that she met Deanna Roberts in 2005 in Daytona Beach. The transgender entertainer said she received breast implants in 1996 by a doctor but later sought out Roberts for silicone enhancements to her cheeks and buttocks. She paid Roberts $600 per treatment.
Roberts tried to portray herself as a medical professional, Scott said, but eventually she learned that wasn't the case. But despite the lack of a medical license, Scott said she and others returned to Roberts based on her past work and the cost.
In September 2009, Scott was receiving a silicone injection into her buttocks. The procedure had lasted 45 minutes when Scott, laying on her stomach, began to see stars.
"She and I both knew I was in trouble," Scott testified. "My heart would not stop racing. It was horrible."
Roberts insisted on driving Scott to the hospital, though when they arrived Roberts dropped her off and left. Scott's condition became more serious and although she told doctors about the silicone injection, they thought she was suffering from pneumonia.
Staff at the hospital induced a coma, which Scott remained in for five days.
"I had a pipe down my throat. I'm not sure of the medical term. I nearly died twice in five days. It was crazy," Scott said.
Two years later, Scott was still experiencing medical complications from the silicone injections. She suffered from constant pain and had to undergo surgery.
"They told me that all of it was staying in one place and my body was rejecting it," Scott said of the silicone.
Scott suffered through two surgeries a week for eight weeks as doctors removed the silicone from her buttocks. The process also included skin grafts that still cause her complications.
"I spend a lot of time at home with these skin tears," Scott said.
'I wanted bigger fuller breasts'
Shawna Witt said she knew Shuntel for nearly 20 years and met Roberts in 2007. She met Roberts to received injections of silicone into her breasts.
"I wanted bigger fuller breasts and I was told this woman would do it," Witt testified.
She met Roberts at a home in Birmingham for the procedure, where she said Roberts had medical credentials hanging on the wall of a bedroom where the injections were done. Witt said Roberts poured silicone into a Dixie cup before the injections and offered her a sedative before the injection. Witt declined.
The injections – six in each breast – were done without complications, though her friend slid off the table and fell on the floor during her treatment, Witt said. During their drive to return home to Chattanooga, Witt started feeling ill. The next day at work, she passed out.
Witt woke up in a hospital. Her lungs had collapsed. She remained there for 31 days and was eventually sent home with an oxygen tank to help her breathing.
"They had no idea what it was. I was the first person. They were pumping me full of steroids," Witt said.
'She’s a liar and I knew it'
Roberts was arrested at her some in Sanford in May 2016 after she was indicted by a federal grand jury for injecting silicone into Shuntel and three other transgender women. Those injections took place on Nov. 16, 2015 in a house in near Marietta Boulevard in northwest Atlanta, according to court documents.
Shuntel, 45, was found dead on Nov. 18. Doraville police discovered Shuntel’s body at her residence in the 2700 block of Addison Drive, which is in a neighborhood nestled between Chamblee Tucker Road and Buford Highway. The DeKalb medical examiner later ruled Shuntel's death a homicide. The autopsy listed the cause of death as "complications of silicone polymer embolization." Silicone polymers similar to ones removed from Shuntel's buttocks were also found in her lungs, according to an Atlanta police incident report.
DeKalb authorities enlisted the help of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration with the investigation into Shuntel's death. The DeKalb medical examiner lacked equipment to test tissue samples from Shuntel’s lungs and buttocks for silicone, according to Jessica Owen, a special agent with the FDA who investigated the case. That FDA testing delayed a final determination of Shuntel's death for months, Owen testified Wednesday.
In the meantime – after Shuntel's death in November 2015 and before her arrest in May 2016 – Roberts continued to provide silicone injections to people, bragging to clients that she had been cleared of any wrongdoing in Shuntel’s death. Witnesses testified on Wednesday that Roberts told them Shuntel died of a heart attack.
“She called and at that time, she was giddy. [Roberts said] it had nothing to do with her and Lateasha died of a heart attack,” Scott Paine said. “She’s a liar and I knew it.”
Roberts maintained that she used medical grade silicone with her clients, though she carried it to treatments in a container described as a vinegar bottle. Paine said it was a clear jug with a twist top that Roberts transported in a black briefcase. Roberts poured the silicone into plastic Dixie cups for each patient and draw from that for her injections, according to witnesses who testified Wednesday.
“Deanna said more than once she had never hurt anyone,” Paine said.
Owen testified that her investigation never cleared Roberts of criminal wrongdoing in Shuntel’s death and that she found no records of Roberts being licensed as any sort of medical professional in Florida. In fact, in September 2015 the Florida Department of Health issued a cease and desist letter to Roberts at her Sanford home after a client complained of medical complications after receiving a silicone injection from Roberts, Owen said.
Less than two months after that letter was issued, Roberts administered silicone injections to Shuntel. Two days later, Shuntel was dead.
The FDA’s investigation showed that between 2004 and 2016, Roberts purchased 178 gallons of silicone from an Arizona business for $62,000. She ordered so frequently that the company offered her a 20 percent discount on the silicone, Owen said.
Yet even after Shuntel’s death, Roberts continued to order more silicone and treat clients. She bought a gallon in December 2015, the month after Shuntel died, Owen said. And in February 2016, when Roberts tried to place another order, the company hesitated. Owen had made them aware of the criminal investigation involving Roberts.
“They were not going to sell her anymore silicone after they were advised what she was doing with it,” Owen said.
So the company asked Roberts to sign an affidavit – something she had done years earlier – stating the silicone she was buying wouldn’t be used on humans or injected into them. Roberts signed the document on March 1, 2016 – four months after Shuntel’s death as the investigation into it continued.
McKinnon asked Owen if Roberts provided false statements on the affidavit. “Oh yes,” Owen said quickly.
“I think there were a couple of false statements she used. Pretty much everything she said we know was a lie or false,” Owen added.
A handwritten note from Roberts on the affidavit said she would use the silicone “to lubricate machinery in a mostly sterile environment.”
'It won't bring my daughter back'
On Friday, Roberts declined to make a statement before she was sentenced. She could face additional criminal charges from the Fulton County District Attorney's office, something Shuntel's family said they hope will happen.
"I would have liked to see her get 16 years but something is better than nothing. But I want to see her on trial for murder," Paul Hall said.
Veta Hall said after the sentencing that Roberts played doctor and that killed her daughter.
"No matter how the judge looks at it, she killed my daughter. When you do medical things and you do not have a medical license, you are taking the responsibility of a person's life in your hands," Hall said.
"There would never be enough sentencing when you're putting illegal drugs in other people. Nothing would have been enough. It won't bring my daughter back," she added.