Adam Litwin always wanted to be a surgeon, prosecutors say, and for six months last year he managed to pull off the most successful operation of his life.
Armed with a few of his favorite props--a monogrammed lab coat, X-rays, a stethoscope around his neck--the 27-year-old Woodland Hills resident bamboozled scores of doctors at bustling UCLA Medical Center, authorities say.
Strolling from operating room to emergency room, from cafeteria to doctors' lounge, the tall would-be resident chatted earnestly and knowledgeably about medicine and the healing profession. He even held a space in the doctors' parking lot and wrote prescriptions for tranquilizers and cough remedies, a prosecutor says.
But on Friday, Litwin himself was given a dose of bitter medicine. City prosecutors charged him with impersonating a doctor, forging prescriptions, trespassing and a variety of other misdemeanors that could land him in jail for six years.
Although hospital officials insist that Litwin did not have contact with patients, and therefore posed no health risk, authorities say his charade was artful and convincing. He allegedly used a stolen parking pass to park in a lot reserved for doctors and obtained a key to the doctors' lounge. When questioned, he told people he was a surgical resident who recently transferred to UCLA.
"It appears he was a sort of Walter Mitty guy, like he really wanted to be a resident there," said Deputy City Atty. Mark Lambert. "He did know an awful lot about the profession and its procedures. Apparently his grandfather was a doctor. He fooled a lot of people."
Litwin, who must answer to the charges next month, impersonated a doctor from January to June of last year, according to police. A medical center supervisor grew suspicious when she noticed that he had little to do and hid his identification badge with a hospital meal ticket. Also, his lab coat was different from those of the other doctors: it carried a silk-screened picture of Litwin's face and his name.
"Nobody had a coat like that," Lambert said. "It was like he was trying to be noticed. That's the thing about it. It's a bizarre case."
Neither Litwin nor his lawyer could be reached for comment. However, Emil Litwin, the defendant's grandfather, said the charges were the result of a mix-up of some sort. "He did go to medical school for two years and he did work at UCLA," the elder Litwin said.
A medical center official said he did not know if Adam Litwin had attended the UCLA medical school and was unaware of other aspects of his background.
Prosecutors say Litwin used the name of a real doctor with the same last name to forge prescriptions. That physician, Dr. Mark Litwin, a urologist, said he is still troubled by the incident.
"It's very, very disconcerting to have someone steal your credentials like that," he said. "Especially when you've worked very hard for many years. You feel very invaded."
It was when he was alerted by a pharmacist about a problem with a prescription that he first realized someone was using his name to write prescriptions. The prosecutors say it was not clear who, if anyone, used the ones written by Adam Litwin.
The defendant was ultimately arrested by UCLA police in the doctors' lounge. A search of his car turned up a stethoscope, a scalpel, patient reports, orders for medicine, X-rays, CT scans and the parking pass and lab coat, prosecutors said.
David Langness, director of health services communications at the medical center, said that every hospital must contend with impostors and that security officers there are on heightened watch for fakes.
Langness said that this is the first time in 20 or 30 years that the medical center has encountered such a case but that four similar escapades have occurred in other Southern California hospitals in the last six years.