In the middle of this slide, Torres’s mother lost her long battle with cancer in 2000. Her death sent him into a Niagara of grief, his friends say. “I was flatlines,” Torres agrees, crying intensely years later. “I was emotionally dead. I didn’t have aspirations to do much of anything.”
Thereafter, people all over the city began to notice that he was falling apart. At a GMHC dinner at the Waldorf featuring Lainie Kazan, according to a witness, his head fell comically into his dinner plate before friends dragged him outside. Eventually, the rumors got so bad that Brian Saltzman, one of his partners, confronted his friend. “I said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. I haven’t seen you impaired, but there are these allegations. If there is anything going on, I suggest you call the OPMC,’ ” Saltzman remembers, referring to the Office of Professional Medical Conduct. “He absolutely denied there was any problem.”
In an unrelated twist, the posh private practice was going bust anyway. A third partner, Todd Yancey, had been accused of inappropriate sexual contact with a few patients, one of whom committed suicide—he reportedly left a long note blaming Yancey for his depression. The family threatened legal action. Yancey agreed to retire his license, acknowledging he could not defend himself against the charges, and Bernard Salick shuttered the practice soon thereafter.
Next, both Saltzman and Torres headed to Beth Israel. But Torres’s downward spiral continued. One lunch break, he fell asleep in his car—for three hours—and missed a string of appointments, resulting in a suspension for suspected drug use (he takes issue with this characterization, saying that his “somnolence” was owed to “overusing Benadryl” and that he hadn’t used crystal for several days before the incident). Following evaluation at Marworth, a Pennsylvania rehab facility, he was allowed to return on the condition that he submit to random urine tests, but he tested positive five weeks later. He remained on medical leave from the hospital until he resigned on October 11, 2001.
He didn’t quit using, though. Instead, he applied for a number of jobs, including at St. Luke’s–Roosevelt with his old friend Dr. Victoria Sharp. She recalls the day he showed up for an interview. “My secretary said, ‘My God, this guy looks like he’s on drugs.’ He looked terrible.” After receiving him in her office, Sharp expressed concern without mincing words. He rebuffed her. “Quite frankly,” he tells me, “I didn’t think it was any of her business.” She later called a meeting of other top AIDS experts at the bar at the Carlyle to discuss an intervention, but nothing seems to have been done. Later, Torres was offered the job of medical director at Housing Works, the agency for homeless New Yorkers with HIV. At the time, I was on the board of directors. In a bitter fight with the co-founder, Keith Cylar, I argued against putting Torres in a position where lives depended upon him unless he was demonstrably rehabilitated. The offer was rescinded.
Finding himself unemployable, Torres set himself up in private practice in Chelsea, putting a drug-using administrator in charge of running the office and a transgender woman at the front desk. He never brought in enough money to make payroll. “I was able to keep it going by refinancing my Fire Island house every six months or so,” he says.
But there was still further to fall. In early 2004, Torres took himself to Miami for a circuit party, a big event on the gay social calendar. As he boarded his return flight the following Monday morning, agents found a crystal pipe in the pocket of his bomber jacket. “It belonged to this trick I picked up,” he told a friend. “It wasn’t even mine.” They threw him in jail until he could post bail. He was to return in a few months for a court appearance but missed the date by two days. “That’s Gabriel,” says his closest friend, Paul Shelby, a massage therapist. “If there’s a plane to catch, he’s going to miss it.”
When he finally appeared, the judge angrily dispatched him to a court-ordered residential rehab program for three months, leaving his patients stranded.
Meanwhile, back in New York, his office manager—an Israeli citizen named Joseph Kassous—apparently cleared out his personal and corporate checking accounts; siphoned $400,000 more from Torres’s good friend and patient, Baroness Rocio Urquijo of Spain; sold or gave away scores of forged Percocet prescriptions; and jumped bail after the police caught up with him (he’s still at large and believed to be in Mexico). Besides bankrupting Torres, the events touched off an investigation by the attorney general’s office into his prescribing patterns. “My name was found on bottles in all sorts of people’s houses—drug dealers, people who were arrested—all forged,” Torres says. “They came down on me like an earthquake after Joseph.”