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Honesty in doubt, King drops out of race

For a week, Land O'Lakes Republican Jim King contemplated abandoning his campaign against U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite after he suffered a serious back injury.

Now, he plans to quit his campaign — but apparently for a different reason.

A St. Petersburg Times investigation into King's nebulous background found he made inaccurate claims about his professional background and his time with the military in Afghanistan in 2001. The evidence prompted the cancellation of his campaign Wednesday.

In recent interviews and community meetings, King has identified himself as a "semiretired professor in the medical field," but never provided specifics.

The Times could find no record that King, 53, ever earned a medical degree or received any medical certification.

In May 2001, he was hired as the dean at the University of Seychelles Institute of American Medicine, in a tiny archipelago country off the east coast of Africa.

But university president Fauzia Alkhairy said she fired King after six months when his story didn't check out. "We found out he was lying to us about his medical qualifications," she said in a telephone interview.

As for his military background, King previously acknowledged to the Times that he never served in the armed forces in Afghanistan, though he allowed himself to be introduced as a decorated veteran as recently as June 19.

King said he went there as a civilian in 2001, but now there's some question as to whether he even made it into the country.

In October 2001, he identified himself as a doctor and joined Suraya Sadeed, a well-known relief worker on a trip to Afghanistan. But while in neighboring Tajikistan, she told him to leave after she found out he was an impostor. The incident was first reported in a 2002 article in the Los Angeles Times Magazine about Sadeed's Afghan relief efforts.

"Some things didn't match up with him," Sadeed said in an interview this week.

Speaking from his home Wednesday morning, King said "there's a thread of truth" in the information but refused to comment further. He suggested the magazine article was not entirely accurate but declined to go into detail about his background.

Minutes later, in an e-mail to the Times, King said he would drop out of the race. He said he plans to announce his decision Monday after contacting supporters, and he asked the Times to delay publishing this story until then. The request was refused.

Quite a resume

King's primary campaign in the 5th Congressional District, which covers Hernando, Citrus and parts of Pasco counties, attracted attention as early as October when he began meeting with dozens of local groups and airing numerous local radio advertisements critical of Brown-Waite. He also received support from a number of national veterans groups for his stance on military health care issues.

From the start, King was regarded as a fringe candidate with little political credibility after his previous four campaigns for various offices under four different party banners.

But his tactic of running to the right of the sometimes moderate Brown-Waite provided a first for the district, and his explosive rhetoric provided interesting campaign fodder, especially as he pushed the incumbent on the issues of taxation and offshore oil drilling.

Last week, King suspended his campaign after he said he hurt his back and could barely move. King planned to sit out at least three weeks per a doctor's order.

But in the days after the injury, someone anonymously e-mailed Brown-Waite and local reporters about the Los Angeles Times Magazine article.

King said he had "no knowledge of the story" until being contacted for explanation by the St. Petersburg Times.

In the article, freelance journalist Michael Alan Lerner writes that King saw Sadeed, the Afghanistan relief worker, on television and called offering aid. King met her at Dulles Airport outside Washington armed with a truckload of medical supplies to be used in refugee camps.

King identified former U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman as a reference at the time. A spokesman for Thurman, now the head of the state Democratic Party, said she has no recollection of serving as a reference.

Early in the trip, Lerner grew suspicious of King's wild tales and asked a researcher to investigate.

King told Lerner he led relief organizations in Florida after Hurricane Andrew; headed the main medical unit away from ground zero in New York after the World Trade Center bombings; and served as the official flight surgeon for TWA airlines, saving two passengers' lives.

King claimed to have a medical degree from the State University of New York's campus in New Rochelle, but Lerner found no medical school existed at that campus. Also, Lerner's investigator could not find King in the American Medical Association database.

Lerner told Sadeed what he learned and she confronted King, who did not defend himself and soon left.

Sadeed, the founder of Help the Afghan Children, a U.S.-based nonprofit, confirmed the details of the magazine story during a recent interview. She also verified King's identity through a recent picture.

"He introduced himself as Dr. King and said he was doing a lot of work elsewhere," she said. "I was naive, I guess."

The trip took place shortly after King was dismissed from the medical school in the Seychelles, where he also fudged his medical credentials

Alkhairy, the school's founder, said she met King while they were working in at a Bedford, England, hospital.

At the time, King said he was a surgeon in Florida who was a student doing a clinical rotation in psychiatry. She said she needed a dean, and he took the job before she realized he was not a licensed physician.

"There were just too many doubts," she said from her U.S. office. "So I thought, 'Okay, something's not right about this.' "

Claims don't check out

His background in previous campaigns from 1992 to 2000 was never intensely questioned.

In the present and past races, King made an assortment of biographical claims and identified himself at various times as a teacher of emergency medicine, an author of medical textbooks and the proprietor of a business that provides interpreters to hospitals.

The Times found no business registration in Florida for the company, Medical Interpreters; no mention of his name as an author; and universities where he claimed to teach — University of South Florida, Nova University and Georgetown — could not corroborate the information.

In the present campaign, King never revealed that he briefly served in 2006 as general manager at the Caliente Resort and Spa, an upscale nudist community in Pasco County. Officials at the resort confirmed his tenure this week.

Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, W.Va., confirmed that King studied at the school in 1973 for one year. But the other educational institutions he said he attended in Florida and the United Kingdom could not confirm his enrollment.

King said his mother is from Colombia and his father is British. At least one story about his background proved mostly true.

In his 1994 campaign, King said his late father, Dr. James C. King of Maryland, was the first medical director of the Peace Corps.

A spokeswoman for the Peace Corps provided a biography this week for the elder King that stated he was the first Peace Corps physician for Colombia, Venezuela and Jamaica in the 1960s.

Still, the dubious information about King's past didn't surprise Brown-Waite, a Brooksville Republican, who said Wednesday she became concerned about King's claims after reading the magazine story.

"This guy has a propensity to elaborate and just plain make up stories about what he's done," she said. "I think with the very questionable background problems … that the jig is up."

Staff writer Michael Sanserino and staff researchers Will Gorham and Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Honesty in doubt, King drops out of race 07/09/08 [Last modified: Sunday, July 13, 2008 7:44pm]
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