SAN DIEGO - A La Mesa man accused of posing as a doctor and promising patients he could cure cancer and HIV must stand trial on nine felony counts, including treating people without a medical license and grand theft, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Judge Kenneth So dismissed two counts of identity theft against Keith Allen Barton, 51, who faces up to eight years in state prison if convicted on the remaining charges.
Authorities allege the defendant called himself "Dr. Barton" and promised to cure a woman and her two children of HIV. One of the children subsequently died at age 9 as a result of not receiving effective treatment, for which the mother paid Barton $18,000, prosecutors allege.
The woman, who was identified only as L. Z. in court, testified about her daughter wasting away under Barton's care.
"On October 18, she went to school that day," said the woman. "She came home and all of a sudden, her lung collapsed. It was the first time."
The little girl was then hospitalized. She called Barton.
"I was already insecure about him so I told him that I didn't want to continue," L.Z. said.
When asked about what she was feeling insecure about, L.Z. said, "That he wasn't a doctor."
She told of a situation where he had told her she had to set up blood testing. She questioned why he would not do it.
"He said no and I said, 'Why not?'… He basically said 'I'm not licensed in the state of California,'" said L.Z.
According to authorities, Barton is not a licensed medical doctor, osteopath or naturopath but has the same first and last name as a real medical doctor who is licensed in California, which helped the defendant create the impression that he was a licensed professional.
Majida Ibrahim, an investigator for the California Medical Board, testified that agents found thousands of patient files and supplements during a search of the defendant's home.
"He (the defendant) said he was a naturopath (and not licensed)," Ibrahim testified.
Barton told the investigator that he never meant to be the real Dr. Barton, according to the witness.
The defendant allegedly said he provided treatment for cancer, allergies and other ailments, with more than 200 doctors on staff, including surgeons working for him in Tijuana.
Prosecutors played a recorded phone conversation between a medical board investigator and Barton.
"Hi, Dr. Barton?" said the investigator, who posed as a patient suffering from cancer.
"Yes," Barton responded.
During the conversation, the investigator said she did her research and saw that he was a licensed doctor, referring to the other Keith Barton in the Bay Area.
When asked if he was legit, Barton responded, "Yeah, right exactly."
An undercover agent testified that Barton told her his therapy treatment "would cure my cancer" and wrote him a check for $8,760.
A man testified that he contacted Barton a few months after his wife's health declined in late 2009. The witness said Barton gave his wife two injections of cell therapy in 2010, but that Barton never claimed to be a medical doctor.
After Barton's Jan. 8 arrest, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis alleged the defendant, by posing as a doctor and charging thousands of dollars for a phony cure, showed "callous disregard" for his victims and the medical field.
"This case is a reminder that consumers need to be particularly wary of unapproved `miracle' cures, especially when they are offered by practitioners who run clinics south of the border," said prosecutor Gina Darvas.
A Superior Court arraignment was set for July 2.
Barton posted $100,000 bail after his arrest.
In a similar case prosecuted by the district attorney's office, Kathleen Helms, a San Diego woman who posed as a doctor and offered patients non-FDA-approved DMSO infusions as alternative remedies for auto-immune disorders, pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
Last year, 75-year-old Walter Donsbach pleaded guilty to practicing medicine without a license and selling misbranded drugs.