Illustrations by Richard Watkins / AJC

Repeat offenders often targeted vulnerable patients

By sheer numbers of victims, some physicians are among the nation’s worst sex offenders, experts say. The most notorious doctors victimized 1,000 or more patients.

Earl Bradley

Among them is Earl Bradley, a Delaware and Pennsylvania pediatrician who had offices decorated with characters from “Pinocchio” and “Toy Story.” For more than 15 years, from the mid-1990s to 2010, Bradley is believed to have drugged more than a thousand children with lollipops, then sexually assaulted them and videotaped his crimes. The youngest victims were months old.

In 2010 he was indicted on 471 charges of molesting, raping and abusing children, with more charges added later. He is now serving 14 life terms plus 165 years without parole.

Other doctors, with anywhere from a dozen to hundreds of victims, didn’t get the public notoriety that might be expected.

How could such abuse, particularly when the victims were adults, continue for years?

Serial predators raped or molested patients under the guise of conducting medical exams. Many abusers chose very vulnerable patients: children, the disabled, immigrants, those suffering from mental illnesses, those who were unconscious.

Abusive gynecologists

Patients may be at their most vulnerable during intimate medical examinations, when their genitals are exposed.

Dr. Peter LaFuria, a gynecologist in Louisiana, took thousands of explicit photographs of his patients without their permission. He was indicted on 269 felony counts, including sexual battery and sexual molestation of a juvenile. In a plea deal he admitted to 20 counts, and in 2014 he was sentenced to 23 years in prison, with 15 suspended.

Dr. Nikita Levy, a 25-year veteran of the Johns Hopkins Medical System in Baltimore, secretly took photographs and videos of thousands of patients during pelvic exams. Some women also reported being inappropriately touched. In 2013, after being reported to supervisors and fired, Levy committed suicide. Johns Hopkins settled with more than 8,000 women, paying out about $190 million.

Dr. Brian Finkel, an Arizona gynecologist and abortion provider labeled “the infamous diddling doctor” by the Phoenix New Times, made light of his misbehavior after being accused of groping and genital touching by dozens of women. Finkel maintained an air of nonchalance during his trial: At one point he reportedly whistled “If I Only Had a Brain” during a witness’ testimony.

In 2004 he was convicted on 22 counts of sexual abuse and sentenced to 35 years in prison.

More than 35 patients told prosecutors that Dr. Orlando Cano, a gynecologist from Fayette County, Ga., had fondled, groped or otherwise sexually abused them. Cano was also accused by staffers of sexual harassment and abuse. In 2003, he pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery. Later in 2003, he pleaded no contest to a charge he inappropriately touched a patient. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail and 12 months’ probation.

Incapacitation and drug use

Some doctors exploited situations in which patients were unconscious or debilitated by drugs.

California internist Jeffrey Joel Abrams, working at a clinic for low-income patients in the San Diego area, was accused of sexually assaulting unconscious patients and taking more than 1,300 sexually explicit photos. Many of his victims spoke little English. In 2015 he pleaded guilty to 12 counts of sexual abuse, including eight counts of sexual penetration of an unconscious person. He received one year of house arrest.

Frederick Field

Oregon anesthesiologist Dr. Frederick Field took advantage of patients after putting them under sedation — including a 66-year-old woman who said that Field “had forced her to touch him sexually during (her) surgery,” according to her attorney. In 2012, Field pleaded guilty to sex abuse and rape and was sentenced to 23 years in prison. A dozen women, including co-workers, had come forward by the time of sentencing.

Dr. David Gierlus, a family physician in Iowa, had sexual contact with 18 victims, according to court records. Three were injected with drugs and then molested. Gierlus also was accused of providing controlled substances to patients in exchange for sex. The judge said he targeted women with troubled pasts, including those who suffered sexual abuse as children. Charged with 95 counts of unlawful distribution of controlled substances, he was allowed to plead to one count of unlawful distribution of controlled substances and the other counts were dropped. In 2013, he was fined $400,000 and sentenced to eight years in prison.