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Pediatrician to abuse of dozens of young patients

Almost two decades after the Pennsylvania state supervisors, we let him off the hook, a former pediatrician admitted in court Thursday that he was sexually assaulted on 31 children, most of the patients.

Dr. Johnnie Barto from Johnstown pled guilty to sexually abusing two family members and admitted to sexually assaulting more than two dozen patients.

The abuse spanned decades and usually involved girls and boys between the ages 8 and 12, prosecutors said. One of the victims was 2 weeks old. Barto abused children in the exam room at Laurel Pediatric Associates in Cambria County and at a local hospital, according to the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office.

Barto, 71, was arrested in January and charged with groping a 12-year-old girl during an office visit a few weeks earlier. The presumption that she might not be alone, the attorney general’s office put out a call for other accusers to come forward — and they did, by the dozen, with claims going back to the late 1980’s.

“They came to their pediatrician seeking care. Instead, they were the victim of a serial sexual abuser to hide in a doctor’s coat,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a recorded video statement released after Barto’s plea.

Barto, whose medical license has been suspended, remains behind bars pending his sentencing on multiple counts of aggravated indecent assault, child endangerment, and other violations.

“What happened today was good for everyone, because without a public recognition of injustice, there would be no healing,” said Barto’s lawyer, David Weaver. “This way the healing can begin for his family, his victims and for himself.”

The Pennsylvania college of Medicine had a chance to stop Barto almost two decades ago, when he was facing administrative charges that he sexually assaulted a 4-year-old Lee Ann Berkebile and another young patient during office visits. But state regulators threw out the case and allowed him to keep practicing medicine, and Barto went to molest more than a dozen more young patients, according to the officers of justice.

Berkebile, who is now 29, said Thursday that she is pleased that Barto will be held responsible.

“After 20 years, I’m just happy that it is finally over, and he can’t do it again. He is a real sicko,” she told The Associated Press. “He really makes me sick.”

The AP does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they give permission, as Berkebile has done.

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