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Johnstown Pediatrician Gets 79 Years For Abusing More Than Two Dozen Children

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Attorney General Josh Shapiro is flanked by attorneys and survivors of abuse at the hands of Johnnie Barto at a press conference on Monday, March 18, 2019.

A former Pennsylvania pediatrician has been sentenced to 79 to 158 years in prison for sexually assaulting 31 children, most of them patients. 

Dr. Johnnie Barto of Johnstown was sentenced Monday on dozens of counts, including aggravated indecent assault and child endangerment. Prosecutors say the 71-year-old spent decades abusing children in the exam room at his pediatric practice and at local hospitals. He also abused members of his own family.

“He, of course, will remain behind bars for the rest of his life, exactly where he should be," said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro at a press conference Monday afternoon. “Johnnie Barto, make no mistake, is a sexual predator who chose to become a doctor so he could have unfettered access to defenseless children."

Nineteen people gave victim impact statements both in person and through a prosecutor ahead of the sentencing. They described how he destroyed their lives, caused them to feel hopelessness and made them fear doctors.

His wife, Linda Barto, was among them. She says he "spent his whole sinister life lying and sneaking around so he could carry on his abuse uninterrupted."

According to Shapiro, rumors swirled for decades about Barto and his abuse of children.

“He upheld himself as a pillar in the community, a family pediatrician, an elected member of the school board and a regular attendee at his church," he said. "People trusted him.” 

Shapiro said people trusted him so much so that many defended him – and criticized the attorney general's office – when the first charges were filed in January 2017. A second charge, related to the abuse of a young family member, was filed in March 2017, and a third charge came a month later. Then in July 2017, charges were filed in relation to allegations by 28 additional victims, both boys and girls, ranging in age from 8 to 28 years old.

Brooke Rush was abused when she was 12 years old, at an appointment for appendicitis. After the sentencing, she and others called out the medical community and those responsible for overseeing it.

“We trusted not only Barto, but the system that granted his privileges to practice,” Rush said. “You all failed us.”

Erika Brosig, now a trauma therapist and victim advocate, was abused by Barto at age 13.

“We are here to insist upon accountability, and to demand changes in policy to ensure that the next generation of children will not be placed in the hands of a predator,” Brosig said.

Shapiro vowed that his office would continue to investigate and prosecute allegations of sexual abuse of children.

"It doesn't matter whether the abuser is a priest, a pediatrician, a coach or anyone else," Shapiro said. "We believe survivors."