Man Accused of Posing as a Physician
A man who posed as a physician at Southern California medical clinics in the 1980s and was imprisoned in connection with the death of a diabetic patient, was being held without bail Wednesday on charges of again masquerading as a doctor.
At a hearing in federal court Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Rosalyn Chapman denied bail for Gerald Barnes, 62, who is charged with fraud and practicing medicine without a license at the Executive Health Group, a downtown medical center, where he allegedly worked as a physician for nearly a year.
“He has been living a lie for 20 years,” said Assistant U.S. Atty. Ronni MacLaren. “He is a serious danger to the community. He is a pathological liar. He is someone who can’t stop himself.”
Chapman denied bail for Barnes upon being told at the hearing that Barnes allegedly prescribed medication for his wife this month--after California Medical Board investigators probing his activities warned him to stop practicing medicine.
MacLaren also told the magistrate that Barnes attempted to jump from a car to escape FBI agents as they drove on the freeway to the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles after Barnes was taken into custody Sunday.
At the Executive Health Group, Barnes worked as a physician, using the medical credentials of the real Dr. Gerald Barnes, an orthopedic surgeon in Stockton--the same credentials he had used to secure jobs at eight other Southern California medical clinics since his 1981 conviction for involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors alleged in court papers.
Between July 1995 and this month, Barnes allegedly performed physical examinations on as many as 25 patients a day, five days a week, including employees of the FBI, according to a criminal complaint filed by MacLaren.
Barnes’ first conviction came in 1981, three years after he began working at an Irvine medical clinic with fraudulently obtained credentials. Barnes pleaded guilty to felony charges of involuntary manslaughter and practicing medicine without a license in connection with the 1979 death of John Alfred McKenzie, 29, a diabetic patient. He was sentenced to three years in prison and served 18 months.
On Wednesday, McKenzie’s ex-wife, Joan Swendsen, who now lives in Everett, Wash., expressed dismay that Barnes could allegedly fool so many people again.
“I am just shocked that he could get out of prison and do the same thing again,” said Swendsen, whose daughter, Jill, was 4 years old when McKenzie died. “Don’t they check these people’s IDs? Isn’t there a record? It’s outrageous.”
Swendsen filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Barnes in 1980 on behalf of the couple’s daughter. She said the lawsuit was settled out of court.
Jill McKenzie, now 21 and a premed student at the University of Washington, said she regrets that she never got to know her father.
“I didn’t know what happened to him,” she said. “But it has definitely been difficult in my life because of this phony doctor. I wonder a lot about the other people whose lives [were] affected.”
Reached in Stockton, where he still practices orthopedics, the real Dr. Gerald Barnes said: “I think it is mind-boggling that this could happen again. It makes me mad, but it should frighten the public, who put their faith in people they think are doctors.”
By 1984, the suspect was again posing as Dr. Gerald Barnes at clinics in East Los Angeles and West Covina. His cover was blown when a receptionist at one of the clinics, who had worked for him at the Irvine clinic, recognized him and tipped off authorities.
Barnes was sentenced to 3 years and 4 months for writing prescriptions and accepting salaries from those clinics.
Barnes, formerly Gerald Barnbaum, graduated in 1958 from the University of Illinois College of Pharmacy in Chicago. Colleagues described him as an amiable, friendly man who had an interest in acting. He and his ex-wife Patti were involved in amateur theater with the North Shore Theater Company in Wilmette, Ill.
In 1976, Barnes and 10 others were indicted on federal Medicaid fraud charges. He was stripped of his pharmaceutical license by the Illinois pharmacy board but acquitted by a jury.
His career impersonating doctors began in 1976 when he moved to California, where he changed his name to Gerald Barnes. In 1978, he began working as a physician in Irvine at the Pacific Southwest Medical Group.
But Barnes’ luck ran out with deadly results for one of his patients, McKenzie. When McKenzie visited Barnes on Dec. 26, 1979, he was suffering from dry mouth, sudden weight loss, dizziness and insatiable thirst--all symptoms of diabetes.
Rather than sending McKenzie to emergency care, Barnes sent him home and told him to avoid eating candy. Two days later, McKenzie was found dead in his apartment, a victim of uncontrolled diabetes.
Times staff writer Kenneth Chang contributed to this report.