“It was like something out of Les Miz,” says Barry Agulnick, who represented him in the investigation. “There is one particular investigator who has been after him for years.”
Ultimately, the investigation came to a close without charges against Torres, but not before the Office of Professional Medical Conduct opened its own probe. More than a year ago, it alleged that he had practiced medicine while intoxicated. It also alleged that he had misrepresented his history of administrative punishments on job applications, a serious violation of ethical code. Beginning on December 21, 2006, his license was suspended for at least twelve months.
Subsequently, he lost his Chelsea rental apartment following a protracted dispute with his landlord, neighbors, and city officials over his dogs (he was raising litters of boxer puppies in his tiny studio, where the floor was piled with feces). Last May, following a physical altercation with a neighbor over the matter, he was arrested and charged with third-degree assault. When he was frisked, police allegedly found a bag filled with powder. “It’s crystal meth, my friend, give it to me,” Torres reportedly demanded. Those charges are still outstanding.
Finally, last August, he was arrested in his office for practicing medicine while on suspension, a charge that involves multiple felonies, including grand larceny. Detectives searching his pockets say they found another envelope of crystal. He has entered not-guilty pleas on all counts, according to Darius Wadia, his new court-appointed attorney.
The total collapse of Gabriel Torres’s life and career has distressed the few people in the AIDS Establishment aware of his plight. “It’s just one of the biggest tragedies I’ve ever seen. This is a guy who had absolutely everything going for him,” says John Grimaldi, a psychiatrist who worked for Torres at St. Vincent’s and is now in practice in Memphis. “All of his colleagues are completely and totally heartbroken about this.”
Jonathan Tobin, who undertook important AIDS research with Torres as head of New York’s Clinical Directors Network, agrees. “Many people are alive because of him,” he says, “and many others died with a greater sense of peace and dignity because of him. I hope in his time of suffering people will come to his assistance with the same selflessness.”
The problem is, nobody knows how to help, or even how to reach him. “I would do anything I could to help him,” says Sharp. “I just don’t know what to do.”
Last fall, as his case percolated through the courts, Torres kept a low profile at his Fire Island home, which he had been trying to sell in order to stave off foreclosure. He lived there on and off, despite having no electricity or insulation, until mid-January, when a cold snap exploded twenty pipes throughout the house. (It has since sold for less than he owed.) He returned to New York with his remaining dog, a boxer named Usmail, a reference to the Puerto Rican fairy tale in which a postage stamp is misread as a proper name. To support himself, Torres was selling his sizable art collection a piece at a time over Craigslist; he has also sold his bed, among other furniture. Finally, he had to give up the dog to an agency for adoption.
Torres at first bunked in with his current boyfriend at an SRO in Times Square, until guards there blacklisted him. With no options left, he went to a city agency, which found him a strict SRO on the Upper West Side—through a program geared for homeless people with HIV.
It seems Torres had fallen victim to the virus in more ways than one. He has been HIV-positive since 2002.
“I was infected by my last boyfriend—it was conscious,” he explained to me awkwardly during a lengthy interview right before Christmas. “Well, not conscious. He was positive and I was negative and we were having unsafe sex.” Was that because he was high on crystal at the time? I wondered. “We were both sober,” he replied. “There is no one reason for every infection.”
“What was the unsafe sex about, then?”
He answered uncertainly. “Love?”
When I saw him a few weeks later, Torres came to my apartment dressed in a fine but faded leather fetish jacket adorned with tight lacework and scores of silver grommets. His eyes looked clearer, and he spoke more lucidly about his situation than he had previously. It had been some time since he last did drugs—either several months, as he said, or several weeks, as seemed more accurate.
And he had a little money in his pocket. He had sold his computer, which allowed him to buy belated Christmas presents for his sister’s children in New Jersey. The visit had put him in an upbeat mood. He had hope for his new lawyer and faith that he’ll get probation, not jail time.
“I’m functional,” he said proudly. But then he darkened. “I feel worse about the people I cared for. I feel that I’ve abandoned them.”