Reader, let’s not mince any words about Dr. Anthony Nobles, a 50-year old inventor, teacher, community leader, entrepreneur and soon-to-be space tourist: his life is vastly better than yours.
Hailing from Michigan, Nobles didn’t start with much but using his pair of Biomedical Engineering doctorates he developed a patented heart suture technology that he claims has saved thousands of lives; it certainly saved his bank account, because he has been able to buy residences in Steamboat Springs and a seaside boro of Orange County's Huntington Beach. How many Biomedical Engineering doctorates do you have, reader? None? SIRF thought so.
A man of enterprise, Nobles has folded these patents into a host of public and private companies he’s launched over the years—about two dozen at last count (including a private equity firm that raises money to invest in companies Nobles already runs.)
But let us not get bogged down in commerce and instead celebrate how this man lives so much more fully than the rest of us.
For instance, perhaps you enjoy decorating your house at Halloween, maybe making an extra trip to the store to get cardboard skeletons and a few hanging spiders?
Silly reader, you are not even in the game: Nobles oversees one of the largest Halloween displays in California, with 30,000 people coming to his 2012 effort, which featured 15 actors, 40 robots and one year cost upwards of $250,000. Does your Halloween display have actors and robots? Of course it doesn’t. Did you drop $250,000 on it? How silly are we for even asking?
So you like going to the museum? Good for you, but you should know that Nobles built his very own, “The Nobles Family Auto Museum,” housing his collection of 105 vintage and rare cars, (including racing legend Michael Schumacher’s 2001 Formula 1 race car and, he said, 38 Ferraris.) No need to be difficult about it, but if you were going to build a museum, dear reader, it would probably have things like your uncle's uniform from the Korean war, not cool stuff like race cars.
So if you had a "bucket list," loyal reader, what would be on it? Whatever it is, SIRF is sure that it doesn't include getting awarded the Nobel Prize for curing "disease states."
Maybe you fancy yourself tech-savvy and like to keep up on the latest gadgets?
Well, the next time you use a portable computer or electronic book, please offer a silent word of thanks to Anthony Nobles because he helped develop them which, let's face it, could not have been easy when studying for two doctorates and running a lot of companies.
While dominating this mortal coil, Nobles takes time out to be a civic minded fellow, with he and his wife donating so much money to their town’s community center refurbishment project that it was renamed the “Nobles Family Community Center.” Shortly after it was renamed, Nobles stood for a seat on the town council and won. It is a safe bet, of course, that you, dear reader, did not donate enough cash to your town’s community center so that it was named after you.
Putting it bluntly, comparing the life of Anthony Nobles to ourselves is a fool’s errand — most of us would be happy to vacation near a beach in Southern California, or to
spend a few minutes behind the wheel of a Ferrari; Anthony Nobles calls that “Tuesday.”
Incredibly however, lurking here and there, are a ragged band of malcontents and embittered cynics who don’t see Anthony Nobles as a real life Tony Stark or even a community-minded entrepreneur.
Heretics all, they see a businessman whose true vocation is selling ideas and investible notions that never emerge as promised.
A better word for these people is “investors” and with few exceptions, they appear to be correct. Anthony Nobles has a storybook life yet, according to Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation research, it appears most (if not all) of the capital he has raised has failed to earn a return.
Over the course of two months SIRF investigated Anthony Nobles and his business career, conducting interviews with a series of his former investors and colleagues and analyzing documents from both his public and private ventures.
What follows are the broad strokes of how Nobles used a combination of imagined and overstated credentials about his schooling, his teaching career, and his success as a entrepreneur to craft his greatest invention -- the legend of himself as a medical technology renaissance man.
Time and again, for more than two decades, high-profile and sophisticated investors have reached for their checkbooks.
In the main, based on what SIRF can determine, most of those investors don't do terribly well and, according to several sources, Nobles has been actively trying to expand his investor base, especially in Asia and Europe.
What follows below is how he does it.
Anthony Nobles is a man eternally on the hunt.
What he seeks is capital to grow his many ventures, businesses that in turn have provided him the lifestyle discussed above.
His many businesses, in other words, require a long ton of cash.
It’s not an irrational concern because Nobles' enterprises compete against the world’s largest Biomedical technology companies, whose research departments are staffed into the thousands with annual budgets of many hundreds of millions of dollars.
And those Ferrari Formula 1 racing cars start at $1 million each.
Anyone looking for big venture capital money needs a sell, that thing which instantly sets them apart and gets a foot in the door. For those who compete on the perception of superior brains and creativity, having little to point to educationally, especially when the others guys have platoons of Ph.D’s, is probably not so easy to explain away.
So Anthony Nobles came up with what video game players call a “cheat,” or a shortcut around an otherwise complex problem, like, for instance, a lack of the academic credentials that make investors comfortable with medical device entrepreneurs. So he launched what might be called "an academic arms race." If research scientists elsewhere had Ph.D's, he would have two. If those scientists publicly used the honorific “Dr.,” Nobles used “Professor Dr.” in his communications.
Evidence the first: Nobles claimed to have earned two Ph.D’s, both in Biomedical Engineering, from Glendale and Redding Universities. For years the dual doctorates were the centerpiece of Nobles’ credentials — click here to see what the biography page of his dranthonynobles.com website looked like and here for a reference to them in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
(Over the past few months, Nobles’ has been carefully amending his once flamboyant online profile and has been removing many of the mentions of his so-called degrees.)
It worked. Nobles’ implicit assertion that he was among the most credentialed people working in the medical device industry was at least tacitly accepted, and few, if any, asked what kinds of schools Redding and Glendale Universities are.
Because if someone had, it would take them maybe three minutes to see that they were online diploma mills: give them your credit card number and you instantly have a degree in most anything.
As it emerges, both schools have fallen on hard times, with federal prosecutors charging James Enowitch, the Connecticut man who founded both Redding and Glendale, with mail fraud. In May he pled guilty to selling $5 million worth of fake diplomas.
Central to Enowitch’s diploma mill scam, according to prosecutors, was setting up a phony degree verification service and for an additional fee, allowing the purchaser to select the courses and grades to be featured on the fake transcript.
The cost to Nobles for all of this ersatz educational experience? According to federal prosecutors, $550 for a doctorate and 50% off for a second diploma, so figure about $825 all in. (This 2006 New York Times article presents a clear picture of how diploma mills operate.)
Let’s be perfectly clear: Glendale and Redding are not accredited, and do not have faculties, curricula or campuses. No one with a “degree” bearing their names can say they learned—or earned—anything. The schools only employ sales staff, who pitch computer-generated diplomas and a few fake transcripts.
Here are the diplomas and here is an analysis of Nobles' Redding degree by Harv Lyter, an Idaho State Board of Education official who had looked at the school when Redding claimed, at one point, to have a school in Idaho.
There are several things noteworthy about the documents. Absurdly (and impossibly) both schools share the same President and Chairman of its Board of Trustees. Secondly, Nobles managed to be awarded all those diplomas on the same day, February 14, 2007. While this made for a potentially memorable Valentine’s Day dinner for Nobles and his wife, as an academic achievement it is rather improbable.
Finally, in a truly surreal twist, Nobles entered copies of his fake diplomas as evidence that he had doctorates—and used the “Dr.” title—in a very real legal filing he submitted as part of an ongoing defamation suit he has brought against a pair of private investigators who had posted online that (among other things) his academic credentials are bogus. (Online sleuths, however, sussed out Nobles’ dubious Redding and Glendale doctorates years ago.)
Controversy over fake degrees is old hat to Nobles though, having been nailed for making up a series of degrees before.
In the early 1990s, the Vancouver Sun first broke the news that Nobles—then the founder and chief executive of privately-held Surgical Visions Inc.—was lying about having a bachelors degree in physics from the University of Texas-Arlington and a Ph.D from the University of California Los Angeles in electrical engineering.
Much like using the fake doctorates as evidence in a legal filing, Nobles apparently was convinced that he would not be caught. John Rogitz, a former in-house attorney for Nobles who sued him in 1993 for breach of contract, claimed that he prominently displayed the fake UCLA and University of Texas diplomas in his office. (The case was settled and terms not disclosed.)
Being publicly exposed levied some rough justice on Nobles: the $5 million investment from another company that was the centerpiece of the deal was pulled, the public listing was halted, he was forced to resign and was later sued by an investor, Dr. Joseph Litner.
A physician who provided a declaration to the defense team in Nobles' litigation against the private investigators, Dr. Litner asserts that Nobles, circa 1992, knew very little about human anatomy and even when trying to stage a demonstration on a cantaloupe (at a business meeting at a restaurant) could not clearly assert what his technology was designed to do.
Nobles would later publicly acknowledge that the degrees were fake but argues that he was put up to it by some of the characters advising him, which included legendary Vancouver Stock Exchange stock tout Harry Moll, whose promotions over the years have run the gamut from self-watering plant minders to mega-pearls harvested from a giant clam.
Moll, whose stock pumping days are over, is now firing back at Nobles and he’s not shooting blanks.
Here is Moll’s declaration (entered by the defense in the aforementioned defamation case) about his experience with Nobles.
To wit: Moll, in laying the groundwork for a possible listing for the Nobles helmed company, had commissioned a Kroll Associates background investigation into Nobles after getting a tip that his background might not be what he was claiming, i.e. a Ph.D and a medical doctor.
The tip was spot on and Kroll found no evidence of either the medical training or college degrees, and Moll confronted Nobles about it.
Moll said the then 27-year old Nobles explained the discrepancies away by telling him that the Central Intelligence Agency had purged all of his academic records a few years prior. This, he said, occurred during his tenure as a physician “working on aliens” at a secret facility in Roswell, New Mexico, so his work and credentials would have to remain classified.
Space aliens and the CIA are rare combinations in a business story. To get to the bottom of this SIRF called the 80-year old Moll, now living in retirement in Nevada, and rather forcefully demanded an explanation.
Moll was blunt and measured in his insistence that his signed declaration is accurate, that the conversation between he and Nobles occurred in that exact fashion and there was more to the story but he kept the filing brief. It was made and sworn to in late January when he was approached by a lawyer for the investigators and he was relieved, he told SIRF, to finally establish the record about Nobles had said.
(Finally, he let SIRF have it with both barrels for questioning his honesty; the remarks were truly unprintable.)
“He said every word of this and more. He had a lot to tell me about this super secret project and was really afraid that I would tell people about it,” said Moll, who alternately said he is still baffled and angry about Nobles and what he called his “bullshit story.”
“[Nobles] thought I would quietly tell investors that he worked on a super-secret CIA project and [his lies] would be ok,” he said. “I walked out of the room and couldn’t believe that he thought this kind of insane bullshit was acceptable. I lost a lot of money—another guy lost almost $500,000”—and he was making up something about...flying saucers.”
Moll insisted that he would happily defend his entire declaration in court if called upon to and that he wasn’t paid any money to write it.
“My big regret is that I didn’t go public with [Noble’s] excuse sooner since he would have been ruined,” he told SIRF. “I sat on the truth and feel badly about that; maybe I could have saved people money.”
Another former Nobles colleague told SIRF that Nobles had referenced a stint working with the CIA in discussing his background.
In the late 1990s, Nobles met with Alfred Novak, the former chief financial officer of Cordis corp. (Nobles had done some contract work for Cordis in the mid-90s) to discuss a possible investment in his then-company, Sutura. As part of their conversation, Novak told SIRF, Nobles told him about working with the CIA “in a special program” but would not discuss it further; Novak said he turned the conversation quickly to business and the matter was dropped.
The CIA has not responded to a request for comment regarding Nobles’ claims.
(Novak, along with friends and a private equity fund would eventually invest $11 million in Sutura in 1999; in 2005 the group sued Nobles and the company alleging a host of operational and governance problems. The suit was settled in 2007 and their investment was lost as Sutura collapsed.)
The “Professor” part of “Professor Anthony Nobles” is only slightly more accurate.
As part of a court submission (see page 11), Nobles described how affiliation with a college lent prestige and attracted investors: “The credibility afforded me as a university professor or lecturer aids immeasurably in building the credibility I need to build my company and complete the pending investment under diligence.”
For several years Nobles website claimed he was a “visiting professor” at the University of California Irvine but the reality is less exalted: never a faculty member, he was part of a volunteer mentor program working with students in the Biomedical Engineering department and had spoken in several classes.
According to emails reviewed by SIRF, the prominence of Nobles’ claimed UC Irvine affiliation occasioned a mini-revolt within the department in the early fall of 2013. After Nobles asked to join the faculty as a visiting professor, red flags emerged when, upon being asked to submit a resume to begin the formal consideration process, what he provided was what someone in the School of Engineering’s Dean’s office described as “a list of accomplishments....it was like he had no idea what a resume is."
Concern among faculty members soon spread as professors unearthed his diploma mill degrees and the Vancouver controversy and one suggested hiring a private investigator to dig into his background.
Ironically, the faculty emails show the professors were less concerned over Nobles' lack of academic credentials than they were about his track record of making them up.
“No one cares if you don’t have a degree. Look at Steve Jobs/Bill Gates/Mark Zuckerberg,” wrote another professor. “So why does he have all these fake degrees and everyone calls him "Prof. Dr. Nobles?’”
While there existed a consensus to bring the Nobles matter up more formally in a department meeting, in early November, the Dean's office--who, in other emails read by SIRF, had sought to build a donor relationship with Nobles--ordered the Biomedical Engineering department to terminate the mentor relationship with Nobles.
A second university relationship that Nobles asserts, the West Saxon University of Applied Sciences in Zwickau, Germany, a vocational university, appears to be accurate.
Nobles' resume looks impressive but a closer look is telling. He has indeed contributed to several articles and textbook chapters, but a good deal of his conference attendance was at "scientific poster sessions," involving the public presentation of a display and answering questions about your procedure or device. Note also the 16-year hiatus in conference attendance and research presentations.
Moreover, not much effort is required to raise questions about how meaningful a role Nobles' played in the development of the electronic book and portable computer.
Trying to discern the reality of where Nobles' work stands in the marketplace is not easy.
An initial search of the US patent office surfaces six patents held in his name and a search using "Sutura" provides another few dozen references, broadly supportive of his claim to have 31 patents. But searching the National Institute of Health’s U.S. Library of Medicine Pub Med directory—an authoritative index of published medical research whose records go back decades—and there is no mention of Anthony Nobles, his companies or any of his devices.
One unabashed proponent of Anthony Nobles' work is John Wyall of Orem, Utah who was the first U.S. recipient of the "Noblestitch" procedure to close the patent foramen ovale, the tunnel between the left and right side of the heart. He told SIRF that he had the procedure done in France by an associate of Nobles's and that he no longer suffers from the pain and exhaustion that had forced him to be bedridden for up to 16 hours a day.
Investors would likely forgive Nobles' being a fabulist if he was able to generate a return on their capital. Unfortunately for them, based on the available evidence, it would appear that this is something that occurs rarely.
Consider Nobles' experience with public companies. There was the debacle surrounding the attempted Surgical Visions merger in 1992, likely costing investors over $1 million prior to the deal's collapse.
The $11 million invested in Sutura by the Synapse fund et al. is entirely gone, but not before, per the Chiu declaration above, Nobles borrowed corporate funds from Sutura and bought the building that now houses the Noble Family Automotive Museum--the partnership that owned it charged Sutura over $27,000 per month in rent--and put his wife on the payroll as a consultant. (When private, Sutura had around $9 million in additional investor capital apart from Synapse that also did not fare too well.)
Starting in 2004, Whitebox Advisors, a Minnesota-based hedge fund that rocketed to fame when they bet correctly on the then-emerging credit crisis, began a series of investments in Sutura that totaled over $20.5 million. In a series of newsletters to investors, they expressed confidence that Nobles, despite the Vancouver woes, would prove competent in the job.
The Whitebox investment started out in trouble and rapidly went downhill.
In 2005 the company lost $12.3 million; in 2006 it was just over $12 million. David Teckman, a Whitebox director with medical industry management experience, was brought in as CEO at the end of September 2006; by February 2008 he had been dismissed and had sued Nobles and Sutura. (The suit appears to have settled for back pay of just over $520,000 plus shares of stock and reimbursement for legal fees.)
In December of 2008 Sutura effectively wound down operations with Nobles buying (back) all Sutura's non-cash assets and $3 million in cash for $6.75 million.
Whitebox declined comment on their investment with Sutura and Nobles when SIRF contacted them by phone.
One curiosity: in 2007 Sutura negotiated a $23 million settlement in a patent violation suit brought against Abbott Labs, Shortly after, according to the company's 2007 10-K annual report, $11.96 million in marketable securities were purchased at a point that year. Who got custody of these assets is not clear.
While tallying up Whitebox's profit or loss is no easy thing because of the different ways they were exposed to Sutura, such as with common stock and interest-bearing loans, it's easier to render an accounting for the experience of Loni Pham, an Orange County resident who met Nobles in July of 2004. In a suit filed in 2007, she alleged that Nobles began courting her investment by claiming he was a medical doctor who had used Sutura's product on a personal friend, saving his life.
According to her suit, she said Nobles told her that a sale to Johnson & Johnson was looming, but that he sought a greater value for the company by "going public," something she claimed Nobles said was a few months away, pending her $250,000 investment.
In an interview with SIRF, Pham said that as part of that pitch, Nobles sketched out for her on a piece of paper how she would make the "two to four times" her initial investment in under six months. She said when she had questions about what his illustration meant, Nobles became frustrated and threw it out. (She retrieved it from the wastebasket.)
Pham told SIRF Nobles used an initial list of Sutura shareholders as an example of the sophisticated investors that had backed him. The shares she ultimately was given under what she claimed Nobles described as "The friends and family plan" valued Sutura, pre-initial public offering, at $27.16 per share, a remarkable valuation for a company with little operating history.
After months of delays, even after Sutura's reverse merger with a near dormant penny stock gave them a stock listing, Pham's suit claimed Nobles told her that her shares were not freely tradeable for a year; Nobles purportedly offered twice to buy her shares back for $250,000, but the exchange never occurred. (The suit was forced into arbitration in 2008 where she eventually dropped the matter because of legal expense.)
Looking back at the episode, Pham, who works as an asset lender, said she should have paid more attention to issues like the lack of employees at Sutura's office and Nobles' refusal to talk with her when she had questions after she had handed over the money.
Another investor, Croatian investor Bruno Mlinar, who met Nobles when both were in Europe racing Ferraris in 2008, gave Nobles $2.5 million for a stake in Nobles Medical Technology and a new venture, Gyntlecare, after Nobles assured him that his company was going to be worth over $150 million pending some Food and Drug Administration approvals.
Fast forward to 2010, and after what Mlinar claims was more than a year of frustrated calls about not getting stock certificates, he received shares in a company called Nobles Medical Technology II, which he said he had never heard of and hadn't invested in. He also received $435,000 in cash from one Karen Glassman at Gyntlecare (who also appears listed as a representative of HeartStitch and other Anthony Nobles entities.) The problem is, Mlinar's suit about the matter asserts, one of the companies he thought he was investing in, Nobles Medical Technology, had been sold to Medtronic for $15 million in 2010 and Mlinar didn’t profit because he was given shares in a different company.
For Mlinar, it gets worse in that Nobles also talked him into shipping him a Ferrari worth what he claimed was $750,000 on the view that Nobles would use it as collateral for financing (but somehow preserving Mlinar’s ownership.) In short order, he alleges, a bill-of-sale was forged and Nobles took delivery of the car. Nobles, in a response, argues that Mlinar signed forms stipulating that the car was worth $200,000 and that there was no preservation of ownership clause.
SIRF reached out to Anthony Nobles four times via phone to his work and cell phone numbers and left a series of detailed messages about this article but no calls were returned.
Attempts to reach him via email were moderately more successful, although SIRF did not ultimately secure an interview.
SIRF also sought answers from Nobles' attorney, John van Loben Sels, but he did not return a detailed voice message at his new firm, Fish & Tsang LLP. He did, however, file this declaration in Los Angeles Superior Court about SIRFs attempts to contact both of them with questions.