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Alleged con artist to stand trial

Gerald McAfee is charged with bilking a Downey hospital out of $1.6 million more than 20 years ago.

October 07, 2008|Scott Glover | Times Staff Writer

When Gerald McAfee was hired as comptroller of a small hospital in Downey two decades ago, he quickly convinced his new boss to let him move $1.6 million of the hospital's money from low-risk, low-yield CDs into a more aggressive bond fund, authorities said.

Four months after that authorization, hospital officials were shocked to learn that the account McAfee set up contained just $11, according to court documents. And McAfee, who was supposedly dealing with a family emergency in Illinois, was nowhere to be found.

Barry Weiss, the hospital's executive director, later learned that McAfee, operating under an assumed identity, had allegedly converted the hospital's money to bearer bonds and fled the country, authorities said.

On Monday afternoon, more than 21 years after being indicted in absence for bilking College Hospital out of $1.6 million, McAfee appeared in federal court in downtown Los Angeles to face the charges.

"They say we always get our man," said FBI Agent Scott Schofield, who was 10 years old when McAfee allegedly absconded with the money. "This one just took a little while."

Schofield and another agent flew to Thailand to retrieve McAfee, whom authorities said had been living there for years under yet another name.

According to an indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, as well as interviews with authorities, McAfee began making preparations to rip off College Hospital before he was even hired.

In August 1985, while working for a company called Hospital Home Care, he stole the identity of a man named David Nathan Ward of Van Nuys, prosecutors allege. A month later he applied for the comptroller job and got it.

Several months after he started working at the hospital, McAfee obtained a Colorado driver's license and a U.S. passport bearing Ward's name and his own photo, according to court papers.

In the meantime, he'd contacted a PaineWebber broker in Mission Viejo and told him he would soon be coming into a substantial amount of money, court records show.

In July 1986, he transferred $1.3 million to a PaineWebber account in the name of a bogus company, telling the broker he was president of the firm, authorities allege. A month later, McAfee allegedly arranged for the transfer of $300,000 to another account and had lunch with the broker, telling him he was thinking about buying a hospital in Lucerne, Switzerland, according to the indictment.

After lunch, authorities say, McAfee took possession of $1.3 million in bearer bonds -- payable to whoever possesses them. He casually asked if such bonds could be traced, authorities allege.

That fall, McAfee allegedly hopscotched the globe making preparations to convert the bonds to cash and laying the ground work for his imminent departure from the country, law enforcement officials said.

All the while, McAfee had been showing College Hospital officials dummied up PaineWebber statements indicating that their investment was doing fine, according to the indictment and authorities. But by November, Weiss had apparently grown suspicious. The hospital director had been trying for some time to get the PaineWebber broker on the phone, but none of the numbers McAfee gave him seemed to work, authorities said.

He finally got through and the news was not good: Just $11 remained in the account.

By that time, McAfee had shipped all his belongings to Europe and was nowhere to be found, authorities allege.

Over the years, the FBI periodically sought the public's help in locating McAfee. At one point the bureau put the handsome, wavy-haired former swimming coach on a wanted poster that listed five of his alleged aliases. But the case was essentially gathering dust until last year when a tipster informed the bureau that McAfee was living in Thailand. Special agents at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, working with Thai police, traced McAfee to a condominium purchased under the name David K. Smyth. A check of immigration records revealed that Smyth's passport bore McAfee's photo, authorities allege.

McAfee was arrested late last year and was being held in a Thai prison pending extradition to the U.S.

Schofield, the FBI agent, said McAfee, 65, was polite and friendly during the 14-hour flight to Los Angeles.

McAfee was happy to be coming back to the U.S., Schofield said.

He said McAfee intimated that prison in Thailand "is not very pleasant."

In federal court Monday, McAfee was ordered held without bond pending trial.

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scott.glover@latimes.com

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