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Pennsylvania pediatrician sentenced to 79 years in prison for molesting children

A Pennsylvania pediatrician was sentenced to 79 years in prison on Monday for molesting children for over two decades. Dr. Johnnie "Jack" Barto, 71, of Johnstown, Pennsylvania pleaded guilty in December to sexually assaulting 31 children, with some offenses dating back to the 1980s. 

According to the Associated Press, 19 people gave victim impact statements at his sentencing hearing on Monday, describing how he destroyed their lives, caused them to feel hopelessness and made them fear doctors. His wife, Linda Barto, who was among them, said he "spent his whole sinister life lying and sneaking around so he could carry on his abuse uninterrupted."

According to prosecutors, Barto abused both boys and girls over several decades in his examination room in Cambia County, Pennsylvania and at local hospitals, with his victims usually ranging between ages 8 and 12. One victim was only two weeks old at the time of the assault and some victims included members of his own family. 

Barto was arrested in January 2018 and charged with multiple counts of aggravated indecent assault, in addition to multiple counts of indecent assault, corruption of minors, unlawful contact with a minor and endangering the welfare of children. 

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro called Barto "a serial sexual abuser hiding in a doctor's coat," and thanked the victims for coming forward. 

"Dr. Johnnie Barto used his position of authority—as the pediatrician who families relied on—to feed his own sick desires and take advantage of parents and children seeking basic health care," Shapiro said in a statement.

"My office was able to bring him to justice because of the brave survivors who came forward and told their stories of abuse and assault, and I thank them for their courage. We will hold child sexual predators accountable for their crimes in Pennsylvania—in a school, in a church, or in a family's doctor's office."

Barto first came to the attention of authorities in 2000 after administrative charges were brought forward that he molested two young girls in the 1990s. Barto was temporarily stripped of his medical license, but after the administrative judge and prosecuting attorney recused themselves, the Pennsylvania Board of Medicine voted 7-2 to throw out the case and allow Barto to continue practicing, citing that the allegations were "incongruous to his reputation." The Laurel County community supported Barto at the time. They held a rally at a local restaurant where he denied the allegations and even wore ribbons at a high school football game in a show of solidarity. 

Once he resumed his practice, Barto allegedly went on to molest at least a dozen more young patients before being arrested last year. Authorities were alerted once again in December 2017, when a 12-year-old girl told her mother that Barto molested her while having her sit on his lap during an appointment. Once Barto was arrested in January, Attorney General Shapiro urged other possible victims to come forward, a public call which resulted in an additional 69 allegations of molestation to be brought against the disgraced doctor and for charges to eventually be filed.