A former pediatrician pleaded guilty in court Thursday to sexually abusing more than 30 children – most of whom were his patients.
The admission by Dr. Johnnie Barto of Johnstown, Pa., came nearly two decades after he was allowed to continue practicing medicine following the dismissal of a similar case against him involving two youngsters. Since then, Barto went on to sexually abuse two family members and to sexually assaulting more than two dozen patients, WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh reported.
Prosecutors said the abuse, which spanned decades, involved 8- to 12-year-old boys and girls, and one victim who was only 2 weeks old.
Barton molested children in the exam room at Laurel Pediatric Associates in Cambria County and at local hospitals, Altoona's WTAJ-TV reported, citing 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 in December. The attorney general's office suspected the girl wasn’t Barto’s only victim and put out a call for other accusers to come forward. The call triggered dozens of responses, with claims going back to the late 1980s.
"They came to their pediatrician seeking care. Instead they were victimized by a serial sexual abuser hiding in a doctor's coat," Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a videotaped statement released after Barto's plea.
"They came to their pediatrician seeking care. Instead they were victimized by a serial sexual abuser hiding in a doctor's coat."
Barto, whose medical license was suspended, remains behind bars pending his sentencing on multiple counts of aggravated indecent assault, child endangerment and other offenses, the Patriot-News of Harrisburg reported.
"What happened today was good for everybody, because, without a public acknowledgment of wrongdoing, there would be no healing," said Barto's lawyer, David Weaver. "This way the healing could begin for his family, his victims and for himself."
"After 20-some years, I'm just glad it's finally over, and he can't do it again. He's a real sicko. He just makes me really disgusted."
Nearly two decades ago, Barto faced charges that he sexually assaulted a 4-year-old and another young patient during office visits, but state regulators threw out the case and allowed him to keep practicing medicine.
The 4-year-old victim, who is now 29, told the Associated Press on Thursday that she's gratified Barto will be held accountable.
"After 20-some years, I'm just glad it's finally over, and he can't do it again,” she said. “He's a real sicko. He just makes me really disgusted."
Barto's sentencing is scheduled for March, WTAJ reported.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.