Crime & Courts

Anchorage doctor accused of child sex abuse faces 18 new charges

Clifford Merchant, an Anchorage doctor originally accused of molesting three young girls for more than a decade, now faces 18 new charges that include two allegations of abuse against a fourth victim, as well as possession of child porn.

Assistant district attorney Brittany Dunlop filed an indictment adding the felony charges at the Palmer Courthouse in mid-December.

The state originally charged Merchant with 11 counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor, three second-degree counts of sexual abuse of a minor and one count of attempted sex abuse of a minor, all felonies. With the new indictment, Merchant now faces a total of 33 charges.

Merchant, 67, was a longtime doctor in Anchorage, including employment at Providence Alaska Medical Center's emergency department as a contract physician. The hospital said it suspended his physician privileges when it learned of the alleged crimes.

He is also the majority owner of First Care Medical Centers LLC, which operates two Anchorage walk-in clinics, according to state business license documents.

Merchant's original charges stem from incidents between 2001 and 2013 involving three girls, all under the age of 13, according to the indictment. Alaska State Troopers learned of the alleged abuse in July, when a 12-year-old girl reported that she'd been touched inappropriately by Merchant, they said.

Two of the new charges allege first-degree sexual abuse of a girl under 16. The abuse occurred between 2001 and 2003, according to an indictment.

The remaining 16 charges are for possession of child porn. Those materials were found on a hard drive at Merchant's Anchorage home and on a laptop computer at his Shell Lake cabin, 50 miles west of the Parks Highway in Southcentral, the indictment said.

Merchant is free pending trial, having posted $75,000 cash bond. Dunlop said the state argued during a bail hearing just before Christmas for an increase in Merchant's bail in light of the new charges.

The court denied that request, Dunlop said.

According to log notes from the bail hearing, a victim in the case wanted assurances that Merchant's whereabouts would be tracked by GPS. The state called a case officer with Alaska Pre-trial Services who testified that Merchant did have a GPS-enabled ankle monitor. Two court-appointed, third-party custodians have been approved as well.

"Some of the victims did have concerns about potential flight and his whereabouts, but he is on GPS monitor," the prosecutor said.

Troopers and Anchorage airport police arrested Merchant on Oct. 25 as he entered Ted Stevens International Airport. Officials said he had an out-of-state flight booked.

Merchant's trial is set to begin March 31 in Palmer.

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