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Alleged Fake Doctor May Have Bought Credentials

Times Staff Writer

State medical officials are investigating whether a retired Oxnard doctor sold his credentials to a Santa Ana man who was arrested for allegedly posing as a physician in Orange County.

Steve Wilford, assistant executive director of the Board of Medical Quality Assurance, said Friday that Dr. Alvin James Stewart, 65, has apparently left Oxnard “and we are trying to locate him” for questioning.

Enrique Herrera, 36, was arrested in April and charged with practicing medicine without a license, perjury, forging a prescription for narcotics and 13 other counts of forging prescriptions. He subsequently admitted to a probation officer that he had posed as Dr. Alvin James Stewart since early 1984, according to a probation document on file in West Orange County Municipal Court. Herrera also told the probation officer that Stewart had sold him the medical credentials.

May Plead Guilty

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His attorney has indicated that Herrera may plead guilty at his next court date, July 16, if the prescription-forging charges are dropped. The probation officer’s pretrial report recommends that Herrera should be denied probation if he pleads guilty but should be referred to a state prison for a 90-day evaluation before sentencing.

Wilford said that when investigators first contacted Stewart, just before Herrera’s April 28 arrest, the ailing, retired physician expressed surprise and shock that someone was using his credentials. By the time state medical investigators heard of Herrera’s claims that Stewart sold him the credentials, Stewart “had already left,” Wilford said.

“It’s an interesting twist,” Wilford observed. “We said since the beginning we were interested in how he (Herrera) got the credentials. Now we’ve heard what Herrera has to say.”

According to Herrera’s statement to Deputy Probation Officer Rex M. Whetzell, Stewart offered to sell Herrera his credentials in February, 1984, when Stewart was preparing to retire. The next month they agreed on a fee of $1,000 a month, Herrera claimed.

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He worked using the physician’s name and credentials in San Diego at California Health Plan from April to September, 1984, when the firm went bankrupt, the statement said. The following month, he began work at Emergi-Care Family Center in Fountain Valley, he said. (The walk-in medical practice also has an office in Westminster.)

Says He Raised Price

In November, 1985, Stewart demanded more money or threatened to let his license lapse, Herrera told Whetzell. When Herrera refused to pay more, Stewart agreed last February to continue under the original arrangement and told Herrera to submit a license renewal application, according to the statement.

Herrera’s case was brought to the attention of investigators by a clerk handling the application.

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According to the probation report, Herrera did not finish high school but received an equivalency certificate. He served in the Navy, where he was trained as a medical corpsman, and attended--but did not complete--a physician’s assistant program at USC’s School of Medicine.

“Now I feel very bad about this,” Herrera said in his probation report statement. “I wish I had never done it. I did it because I always wanted to be a doctor and because this would increase my income and I would be able to give my family a better standard of living. If the opportunity were to arise again, I’m sure I wouldn’t do it. The consequences are too great.”

Herrera added that he “worked hard and practiced safe medicine. I never intended to hurt anyone, and I never did. I always did what was best for my patient’s well-being.”

However, according to the probation report, at least one patient has suffered because of Herrera’s care. A woman identified only as a Mrs. Ruth Rosewitz had a broken toe set by Herrera and now faces possible amputation of the toe, according to the report. After Herrera’s treatment, the toe continued to hurt, and an orthopedic surgeon--who told her the bone had been improperly set--performed surgery and a bone graft, the report states. The toe still has not healed properly, and the only alternative now is amputation, the report says.

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Others Have Complained

Wilford, of the state medical board, said that other former patients have complained of their care since Herrera’s arrest and have been referred to the district attorney’s office. Martin Engquist, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, was not available for comment Friday.

Herrera told Whetzell that he wants to continue to work in health care and continue his education, ultimately receiving a medical doctor’s degree.

Whetzell recommended against probation because there is a “likelihood” that without imprisonment, Herrera “will be a danger to others . . . . It appears the defendant might again present himself as a doctor.”

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Prosecutor Engquist, who has argued for a prison sentence, has said that the maximum term Herrera could receive is about eight years.


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