Why I carry a gun

December 5, 2003

This physician feared for his life after a bogus "doctor" he helped convict was sent to jail.

 

Why I carry a gun

This physician feared for his life after a bogus "doctor" he helped convict was sent to jail.

By Charles Davant III, MD
Family Physician/Blowing Rock, NC

I picked up the gun from the door pocket of my car. I pulled the hammer back with my thumb as I brought it up to window level with my left hand, a move I had practiced many times. I eased the hammer back down, verified that the pistol was still loaded with hollow point police loads, and put it back.

As I looked in my wallet to make sure my concealed weapon permit was still valid, I recalled just what had driven this mild-mannered small town doctor to keep a .38 special in his car. "Someday you'll look up and I'm going to be waiting for you."

That was all the voice said before the telephone line went dead. I was pretty sure I knew what the voice on the other end was talking about. Several million dollars. And I was pretty sure it wasn't the Prize Patrol calling to tell me I was "already a winner." Several months before, almost by happenstance, I had saved a group including several doctors from a major financial swindle, and once again I had foiled the notorious "Doctor" Gregory Caplinger.

In the late 1980s, I had been a prime mover in ending an unlicensed doctor's scam in my small North Carolina town ("No Medical Degree, No License? Come Practice Here," Medical Economics, Dec. 18, 1989). An unlicensed naturopath with a diploma mill MD, Caplinger was treating cancer and a number of other diseases with a variety of IV therapies, injections, and odd herbal preparations.

 

The state medical board determined that he was practicing medicine without a license, but in North Carolina that was, and remains, a misdemeanor. The fine is relatively minor, and our state board couldn't revoke a license he didn't have. It took our State Bureau of Investigation over a year to finally charge him. He paid a $500 fine, agreed to stop practicing in North Carolina, packed up and went to Florida.

Same story. In Florida he set up an Alzheimer's clinic and referred patients to his Dominican Republic "clinic." He established the "British West Indies Medical College" in Antigua and sold MD degrees to chiropractors via correspondence.

Once, I tried to visit his clinic. I was in Antigua on a vacation and, leaving the airport, I saw a sign that said "Home of the British West Indies Medical College."

"Take me there," I told my driver.

"That's it, Mon."

"No, I mean take me to that school."

"No, that's it. Just the sign. There is no school."

The Florida Attorney General's office eventually caught on to him and contacted me. They had read my article and wanted any information I could provide. A few of Caplinger's Florida victims were in touch with the producers of A Current Affair, which did a TV expose called "The Bitter Pill." It detailed how he had ripped off helpless families of Alzheimer's victims for thousands of dollars for his worthless treatments. Florida convicted him of defrauding the elderly and he slipped off to the Dominican Republic.

Several years later I received a telephone call from someone identifying himself as a doctor in Pennsylvania.

"What can you tell me about a Dr. Gregory Caplinger?" My first thought was that someone was trying to entrap me.

"What do you need to know?"

He told me that his broker was trying to get a group of investors, including several doctors, to invest at least $50,000 each in a company getting ready to launch a major advance in AIDS treatment. The product was being developed by Dr. Gregory Caplinger, who promised an extremely high return. Caplinger boasted impressive credentials: medical degrees, 26 published articles, a textbook, faculty appointments, international prizes, and awards.

The doctor I was speaking to had urged his brother-in-law, also a physician, to invest as well. The brother-in-law had recalled reading the Medical Economics article I'd written, and suggested contacting me.

"I know all about this guy. He makes everything up as he goes along," I replied. I referred him to the Attorneys General in North Carolina and Florida. He also decided to contact the Pennsylvania authorities. For obvious reasons the deal fell through. Somehow my name was mentioned.

A few days later, I got that threatening phone call. It was too brief to trace, but we did establish that it was made from a cell phone in Florida—where the good Dr. C was driving a rental car with a cell phone at the time.

I decided to check into a concealed carry permit, brought my old .38 special into my car, and started looking under every bush I drove by. I installed home surveillance equipment. Squirrels scurrying across the lawn set alarms ringing.

Caplinger had been busy. Besides developing cures for cancer, AIDS, and Alzheimer's, he had become involved with Charles David Weekly and Harry J. Kampetis. The three men were indicted by a federal grand jury in 1999 on a total of 24 counts of wire fraud. They had spent several years in schemes promoting investments in Immuno Pharmaceuticals—a company marketing Caplinger's AIDS treatments. They raised almost $5 million from investors. Caplinger's share was estimated at over a million. No one knows how much he made treating patients at his Santa Domingo "clinic."

In late 1999, Caplinger surprised everyone by pleading guilty, but later convinced a judge that he should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea. I got a bit more anxious.

He finally came to trial in July 2000. He was convicted of fraud. But when the jury delivered its verdict he was nowhere to be found.

Was he headed back to his old haunts? I took the .38 out for a few more practice rounds. I got comfortable that I could get off a shot through my locked door, while keeping my right hand in plain view on the wheel.

Caplinger was by now wanted by the FBI, and was featured on the Fox television show America's Most Wanted: America Fights Back. He had fled to the Dominican Republic, where he was ultimately located, turned himself in, and was returned to North Carolina.

I feel more comfortable now that he has been convicted on a few more charges. A federal jury in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania found him guilty of 39 more counts of fraud in connection with patients seen at his Dominican clinic.

Caplinger is now in custody in Florida, with a projected release date of 2015. But he appealed his convictions for money laundering, and his 168-month sentence. In August, the court vacated his sentence and remanded the case for resentencing.

Am I still carrying a gun? Let's just say that I believe it possible that the phone call came from one of his cohorts, who is still at large. I am certain that Caplinger did escape through North Carolina last time. He has a few bad friends who have reason not to like me. They will be on the streets a lot sooner than he's going to be.

 

Charles Davant III. Why I carry a gun. Medical Economics Dec. 5, 2003;80:43.