Elizabeth McCarthy, a former candidate for the Florida House of Representatives who claimed to have treated victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, admitted that she made the story up and lied about being a doctor.
McCarthy dropped out of the race in June 2019 after the statewide news site Florida Politics began asking questions about her supposed medical background.
McCarthy has been charged with lying about being a doctor, which violates a Florida state law. The Florida Department of Health also ordered her to pay a $3,000 fine, according to USA Today.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. McCarthy Told Reporters She Had Personally Removed Bullets From Pulse Nightclub Victims
Catherine Elizabeth McCarthy, who goes by her middle name, attracted attention in March of 2019 when she spoke at a town hall event hosted by Democratic Congressman Darren Soto in Orlando. The topic was about gun violence.
She explained to the audience that she had been forever impacted by the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016, in which 49 people were killed. McCarthy said she had been working as an emergency room doctor at Orlando Regional Medical Center.
McCarthy told the crowd that she removed 77 bullets from 32 victims of the mass shooting, as relayed by the news outlet Florida Politics. A few days after the town hall, she entered the race to represent Florida’s 28th district in the state House of Representatives.
2. Elizabeth McCarthy Originally Referred to Questions About Her Medical Background as a ‘Smear Campaign’
Elizabeth’s McCarthy’s story was not questioned until June when she appeared at another town hall with Rep. Soto. According to the Washington Post, Rep. Soto praised McCarthy as a “doctor who showed her mettle and heroism after the Pulse nightclub shooting.”
The online news site Florida Politics began looking into her claims at that time. The outlet reported in mid-June that there was no record of McCarthy working as a doctor with either the Orlando Regional Medical Center or the Florida Heart Group of Orlando. She is also not licensed with the Florida Department of Health as a doctor.
The website also questioned her education background. McCarthy claimed to have a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and had played basketball there. She said her medical degree was from the University of Central Florida. She also claimed to have played basketball at the University of Florida. None of the schools had records of McCarthy ever being a student.
At first, McCarthy defended herself. She wrote in a lengthy Facebook post that the report was merely a “smear campaign” and vowed to stay in the race for the Florida House of Representatives. In the post, she did not claim to be a cardiologist but mentioned that she had a degree in nursing. McCarthy has since made the post private, but Florida Politics republished the full content of her message, which you can read here.
3. McCarthy Admitted to a Florida Department of Health Investigator That She Had Lied About Being a Doctor
Elizabeth McCarthy did not continue the charade for much longer following the Florida Politics report. It’s a crime to pretend to be a doctor in the state of Florida, and the controversy prompted an investigation by the Department of Health.
An investigator interviewed McCarthy on July 9, 2019. She reportedly tried to stick to her story about having removed bullets from victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, according to Orlando’s News 13, and lamented that her story had become “such a big deal.”
But McCarthy changed her tune later in the interview. She finally admitted to the investigator, “It is a false statement, I just made it up.” McCarthy has since been ordered to pay more than $3,000 in fines for lying about being a doctor, and for the cost of running the investigation.
Rep. Darren Soto’s office released a statement before McCarthy dropped out of the race, saying that the congressman was “deeply disappointed” by her “sick fabrications.” The statement included that McCarthy had known several members of his staff and all believed she was a doctor; Rep. Soto said his office would “require proof of licensure” going forward.
4. Elizabeth McCarthy Was Once Licensed as a Nurse
Elizabeth McCarthy does, in fact, have a medical background. The Florida Department of Health confirmed to local media that she was registered as a nurse but that her license expired in 2005. A search of the Department’s website lists a Catherine E. McCarthy who previously had a license as a Physical Therapist Assistant, and that it was now null and void. The website does not include dates.
McCarthy previously ran a non-profit organization called the C.A.R.E. for Women Foundation. A search of public records on the Florida Secretary of State’s website shows that the foundation was operational from 2006 through 2014. Catherine Elizabeth McCarthy was listed as the executive director.
State records also show that McCarthy ran a health care company called Medical Conceierge Inc from 2009 until 2014.
5. Elizabeth McCarthy Was an Active Participant in Politics in Florida
Elizabeth McCarthy had been active on the Florida political scene prior to launching a campaign for the state House of Representatives. She had served as the legislatic director of the Democratic LGBTA Caucus, according to Florida Politics. But her name is no longer listed on the organization’s website.
According to the Washington Post, McCarthy was described as the president of the Democratic Women’s Club of Greater Orlando in a 2017 newsletter. The newspaper also reported that McCarthy had been a member of the onePULSE Foundation Memorial Task Force, but her name is not listed on that website either.