Health Professional Imposters-Part 1

DECEMBER 01, 2004
Cmdr John Burke

Several years ago, we in law enforcement had a problem that essentially shocked greater Cincinnati, Ohio, when a man surfaced as a physician imposter. I was contacted by a police officer who had befriended this man I will call "Dr. Jones." The officer had concerns that Dr. Jones was not really a physician.

Because it was Sunday afternoon, attempting to verify Dr. Jones' professional status was somewhat difficult. I was able to find out that he was on the pager list at one of the largest hospitals in the region. During the initial interview, he seemed confident and indignant that he was being put through an ordeal of verifying his professional credentials. We were forced to release him that afternoon, since we were unable to verify that he was not a physician, and some information actually pointed to the fact that he was a bona fide doctor.

His alleged health professional background unraveled quickly on Monday morning, however. It was interesting to find that he had used Cincinnati emergency rooms (ERs) as his base of operation with his "patients." Dr. Jones had met many of the patients in area saloons, and they needed physical examinations for work or, in the case of one man, needed a minor surgical procedure to remove excess skin from his leg. Dr. Jones used a local anesthetic available in the ER and removed the skin with a scalpel.

Because Dr. Jones wore a white coat and carried a stethoscope, he was never challenged in the ER or anywhere else in several local hospitals. He had successfully forged a name badge. He was able to attend educational sessions and viewed countless procedure videos he procured from the medical library.

Dr. Jones conducted a cervical exam on one woman, including taking swabs for a Pap test that had to be repeated when he told the patient that the laboratory had lost the sample he had submitted. During the second exam, he told the woman that she had breast cancer, causing understandable stress until she verified that it was not true.

Dr. Jones later ended up at another hospital at the bedside of a woman who was about to have a baby. He felt her stomach, predicted the weight of the baby, and stayed by her side until almost the time of delivery. Once again, he was not questioned, and his birth weight estimation was accurate within 1 oz!

Dr. Jones was able to write a few prescriptions during his tenure as a local physician in good standing. Several pharmaceutical representatives had approached him in the doctor's lounge and gladly provided him with samples and blank prescriptions.

What may surprise readers is that Dr. Jones barely had a high school education and had worked as a police dispatcher at a local law enforcement agency in northern Kentucky. He had no medical training of any kind. He had convinced his girlfriend that he was a physician and ultimately bilked her out of $25,000.

Dr. Jones was arrested and charged with several serious felony offenses. He ultimately pleaded guilty and was given a 2-year prison sentence. He also agreed to provide us with a video explaining how he had kept this ruse going for almost 18 months. He served his time, and then, while on parole, he impersonated an attorney, which sent him back to court and brought him more prison time.

How unusual is this case? Next month, I will discuss a couple of other incidents across the country involving other health professionals, including pharmacists.

John Burke, director of the Warren County, Ohio, drug task force and retired commander of the Cincinnati Police Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad, is a 32-year veteran of law enforcement. For information, he can be reached by e-mail at, via the Web site, or by phone at 513-336-0070.