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Jail time for fake gynaecologist

 

Raffaele Di Paolo failed to get into medical school but that didn’t stop him conning vulnerable Melbourne women and their partners into believing he was a qualified fertility specialist.

The lie spanned more than a decade during which he fleeced ‘patients’ of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The 61-year-old, described by a Melbourne judge as a remorseless charlatan, was on Friday jailed for nine-and-a-half years.

County Court Judge Bill Stuart spent more than a day detailing Di Paolo’s web of lies spanning continents and dating back decades.

It started in Italy, where in the 1990s amid a crackdown on corruption in the medical system, Di Paolo, a dual citizen, obtained forged qualifications showing he was a medical practitioner, obstetrician and gynaecologist.

He was eventually convicted and fined for falsely passing himself off as a doctor but still managed to convince two Roman courts he was qualified to practice in Australia.

After returning to Melbourne, Di Paolo continued to practice, treating 30 women and their partners between 2005 and 2015, all while hoodwinking various qualified medical professionals into believing he was legitimate.

When authorities including the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency began investigating, he trotted out the same forged Italian qualifications, adding a partial science degree from Melbourne’s Monash University.

“At the end of the day you are a base charlatan who has no insight and no remorse but perhaps much self-pity,” Judge Stuart told Di Paolo.

“You deliberately deceived your victims, you breached the trust that they had in you. You encouraged false hope, you wrongfully touched them and penetrated their bodies and you took large sums of money.”

Di Paolo’s purported treatments included injecting homeopathic substances, taking blood samples which were never labelled, and conducting abdominal tests and ultrasounds.

In one case, he conducted a breast examination without wearing gloves.

In another, he removed semen from a partner’s testicles with a needle but without anaesthetic.

He told his victims he worked at clinics including Melbourne’s Monash IVF, despite having been refused a job there, before turning to more natural fertility therapies.

In court, men and women described Di Paolo as a “con-man and predator” who inflicted immense emotional, physical and financial damage.

Prosecutors said he took more than $385,000 from them, but his lawyers contested some of those sums.

Earlier this year, Di Paolo pleaded guilty to or was convicted of 51 offences of offences of procuring sexual penetration by fraud, assault, indecent assault and obtaining and trying to obtain property by deception.

“I find it likely (you have) self-pity than regret, and regret at being discovered rather than any genuine remorse or insight,” Judge Stuart said.

He rejected the defence’s argument Di Paolo’s diagnoses of narcissistic personality disorder and adjustment disorder should shorten his jail term.

Di Paolo was sentenced as a serious sexual offender for some of his crimes and will remain on the sex offender registry for life.

Judge Stuart accepted he was driven by financial gain and not sexual gratification.

Di Paolo will be eligible for parole after six-and-a-half years and has already served 100 days’ pre-sentence detention.

Fake gynaecologist victims speak of their pain

 

A woman who fell prey to a fake Melbourne gynaecologist says his treatment left her wanting to die.

She is one of 30 victims of Raffaele Di Paolo, 61, who passed himself off as a medical practitioner and fertility specialist between 2005 and 2015, fleecing patients of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

One woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said the treatment left her with a painful condition called vaginitis, which led to the breakdown of her marriage as well as depression.

“I feel shattered and find eating and sleeping and living a normal life impossible,” she said in a victim impact statement in Victoria’s County Court on Monday, adding her husband had left her because they were unable to have intercourse.

“I continually wish that I could end my life.

“I often fear what I might do because of the depths of my despair.”

Di Paolo has pleaded guilty to and been found guilty of more than 50 offences including procuring sexual penetration by fraud, assault, indecent assault, and obtaining and trying to obtain property by deception.

He presented himself as medical practitioner who had worked in Italy and at the Melbourne-based Monash IVF fertility clinic before turning to natural infertility therapies.

Di Paolo’s treatments included ultrasounds, taking unlabelled blood samples, and injecting women with homeopathic substances from Germany.

In once instance, he got a patient’s husband to insert an ultrasound probe into her vagina before leaving the room and coming back and saying “oh you didn’t put it in yet”.

Barrister Robert Richter QC said the homeopathic substances his client used were safe.

“There is absolutely nothing deleterious in those substances and nothing that have have the slightest health consequences,” he said.

Di Paolo told 19 women he treated they were pregnant when they were not.

However, the court was told one woman attributed her pregnancy to Di Paolo’s treatment.

Prosecutors said he fleeced patients of more than $385,000 but the defence contested some of these costs.

The court was earlier told Di Paolo attended university in Melbourne and Rome but was never awarded a tertiary qualification.

He tried and failed to join Monash IVF in the 1990s before registering a company and operating as an IVF specialist.

Di Paulo was previously fined 1000 Euros by a court in Rome for falsely passing himself off as a doctor in Italy.

He has been remanded in custody and the plea hearing is due continue on Tuesday.

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How common are doctor impostors?

 

On Monday this week a Brisbane court fined a man $3,000 for pretending to be a surgeon at the city’s Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital. Nicholas Delaney, 25, stole security credentials to enter the hospital but never interacted with patients, his solicitor told the court. His solicitor said the reason for his pretence was “to make friends”, in particular with a man who worked at the hospital whom he’d met through a dating app. But when Delaney asked for his credentials to be renewed, inquiries were made and his deception unravelled.

A more serious case came to light last year, in which a fake doctor worked in the NSW public health system from 2003 to 2014, treating patients in Wyong, Gosford, Hornsby, Royal North Shore, Manly and Mona Vale hospitals. Shyam Acharya had had some medical training and stole another doctor’s identity in order to practise. He treated hundreds of patients, with his performance reviews describing him as “above average” and a former colleague saying he was “certainly not the worst” he’d worked with. Acharya fled the country when his fraud was discovered and his whereabouts are currently unknown.

You might think these are one-off cases, but doctor impostors may be more common than supposed. Dan Sefton, a British emergency doctor and screenwriter of the BBC fake doctor drama Trust Me, is of the opinion that “there are loads of people who aren’t real doctors”.

“It’s not that hard to fake it if you have some qualifications. Part of this thing is that people don’t ask too many questions,” he told the BBC.

Dr Sefton said there had been a case of a bogus doctor working at his own hospital.

“He only got found out through some administrative thing, because he was actually pretty competent,” he said.

“Often these doctors are very professional and get along very well with their colleagues. The only flaw is that they aren’t real doctors.”

A 1996 study reported on 30 cases of fake doctors working in the National Health Service in the UK and there have been plenty of cases since then. One of the most notorious was Levon Mkhitarian, who treated 3,363 patients in his time working for the NHS. Originally from Georgia, Mkhitarian obtained provisional registration to work under supervision but failed to complete the year’s training required. After fraudulently securing a job, he was struck off, but then forged a host of documents and stole the identity of another doctor to continue working. He was eventually caught out in 2015 and sentenced to six years in jail.

And then there was the case of Stewart Edwards, who practised as a GP for 34 years in the north of England before being exposed. Or the German fake doctor, Christian Eberhard, who forged a degree certificate from Oxford University, trained in surgical techniques and spent two years as an assistant surgeon. During that time he took part in spinal, liver and lung surgery and even amputations.

But perhaps the most chilling imposter of all was Jean-Claude Romand, ostensibly a renowned doctor working at the World Health Organisation in Geneva, living in bourgeois comfort just over the border in the French Alps with his wife and kids. Then one day in 1993 something truly terrible happened. Romand killed his parents and his wife and children, swallowed a handful of barbiturates and set fire to his home. But he didn’t die – he was rescued by the emergency services and arrested by the police.

What came out then was astounding. Romand had no medical qualifications at all. Instead of working at the WHO Geneva headquarters, he’d spend his days sitting alone in its car park. Occasionally, he’d say he had to travel abroad to a conference; on those days, he’d stay at a cheap hotel near the airport, boning up on whatever destination he’d claimed he was going to, in order to have stories to tell his family. He kept up this pretence for 18 years.

Romand had been a medical student, but had inexplicably skipped his second year medical exams. He covered up, and told his parents he’d passed, and continued to pretend to attend medical school. That original lie came to be the cornerstone of a whole edifice of deception, which he bankrolled by embezzling the savings of family and later friends. The murder spree came just as that edifice was about to come tumbling down, as relatives began asking for the money back that Romand had claimed he had invested in Switzerland for them.

Romand was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1996 and his case is the subject of at least one book and several movies.