Investigators discovered a handwritten “to do” list in Isabel Kesari Gervais’ pocket when she was arrested in March 2017. Among the items on the list: Create a new identity, according to court records.
That’s one item that Gervais, 61, never got to check off. She was sentenced Tuesday in Alabama to more than six years in prison after she pleaded guilty to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and making false statements. But over the past 15 years, she had changed her name plenty of times as she offered bogus medical treatments to sick and dying patients across the U.S., from Alabama and Georgia to Arkansas and Kansas, court records show.
Posing as a licensed doctor, Gervais offered DNA testing, metabolic testing and more to cancer patients and “desperately ill” clients seeking life-saving care, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. Her treatments were naturopathic, Gervais said. She represented herself as a veteran of the medical field, with years of experience in the U.S., the U.K. and Kenya. She said she had bachelor's degrees in medicine and surgery, and the equivalent of a medical degree, court records said.
For Gervais’ ailing patients, though, the reality was shocking — and life-threatening: Gervais was an itinerant, fraudulent doctor with no medical training or actual degrees beyond a license to practice naturopathic medicine in Idaho from 2004 to 2006, court records said. Gervais traveled from state to state to avoid detection from authorities, adopting new aliases (frequently some variation on Debra Lynn Goodman). She would sneak away from her rental properties, milk clients for thousands and even steal clients’ identities, prosecutors said.
Some of Gervais victims came to court to watch their one-time “doctor” be sentenced. Others couldn’t make it: At least one of Gervais’ patients is now dead, and another former patient was too sick to come, prosecutors told the Birmingham News.
“Through lies and deceit, this defendant took advantage of desperately ill people in Alabama and other states,” U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town said in a statement, thanking the U.S. Postal Service for its role in discovering the fraud that’s sending Gervais to prison. “Now, the fake doctor will spend deserved time in a real prison cell.”
As part of her plea deal, Gervais will forfeit $108,146 as proceeds of illegal activity, court records said.
It’s not Gervais’ first run-in with law enforcement, the U.S. attorney said. Alabama and Arkansas medical boards had probed her for fraud, and she was prosecuted in Arkansas. In more than one state she’s dealt with civil monetary claims. But this is the first time she’s faced a significant prison sentence for her activities, because she previously moved around to avoid legal action, according to prosecutors.
“It is hard to comprehend the devastation and loss of hope victims feel after realizing that someone trusted to heal them was committing fraud against them," U.S. Postal Inspection Service Inspector in Charge Adrian Gonzalez, who investigated the case, said in a statement. “When she decided to use the U.S. Postal Service to further her scam, she came to the attention of postal inspectors. We thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the dedication and support it gave postal inspectors in bringing this pitiless scammer to justice.”
Working as Dr. Rose Starr, she opened a clinic in Hoover, Alabama, in 2015, prosecutors said. It was called Euro Med Klinic — and in the course or running it, Gervais lied about nearly everything: her name, her credentials, the treatments she could offer and more, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
At that clinic, Gervais used a patient’s identity to secretly charge the patient’s credit card. Using a second person’s identity, Gervais opened up a post office box, court records said. She made between $95,000 and $150,000 from patients at the clinic, court records said.
The Hoover clinic was far from Gervais’ first foray into bogus medical treatment.
In Montgomery, Alabama, and Springdale, Arkansas, Gervais ran Sagewood Medical Clinic. In Marietta, Georgia, it was the Chiron Clinic. Gervais opened up DRI Enterprises in Atlanta, and operated Ascension Medical Health in locations across Arkansas. In Leawood, Kansas, she ran AMHC, prosecutors said.
In court, a clip of Gervais on a local Alabama radio show was played. She described her medical qualifications, and advertised German DNA testing and other services she said could help her decide on an appropriate medical plan for those in her care, the Birmingham News reports.
Investigators also found Gervais’ forged diplomas, resumes and letters of recommendation, court records said. She claimed to have attended the University of Virginia and Tulane. Neither school has record of her attending, according to court filings.
"I would like to apologize sincerely," Gervais said in court ahead of her sentencing Tuesday, the Birmingham News reports. "I have been negligent, I have been wrong. I can only apologize sincerely and deeply for what I've done."