Home News Sex Abuse Victims Plead to Keep Doctor’s Conviction Despite His Suicide

Sex Abuse Victims Plead to Keep Doctor’s Conviction Despite His Suicide

by Atlanta Business Journal

Ricardo Cruciani killed himself in jail last month after what victims said was years of sexual abuse and rape, crimes for which he was convicted in July. On Wednesday, six of those victims pleaded with a judge in a Manhattan courtroom not to erase his conviction.

Mr. Cruciani’s sentencing was supposed to take place at the Manhattan Criminal Court hearing, but his death on Aug. 15 upended the case. Instead, the six women read victim impact statements that they had written to a crowded courtroom and an empty chair where their attacker would have sat.

And they urged the judge, Justice Michele S. Rodney, not to dismiss Mr. Cruciani’s conviction, as is standard under New York State law when a person dies before they have exhausted their appeal. The judge declined to rule on Wednesday and did not say when she would do so.

Hillary Tullin, who said Mr. Cruciani raped her for 12 of the 17 years that he was her medical provider, said a dismissal of his conviction would strike her like “a dagger in the heart.”

“I am not sure how much more I can stand,” she said, as she read her statement on Wednesday. “What do you say to someone who is dead but who has robbed you of justice? The best I can do is imagine he is sitting here.”

One woman, sobbing through her statement, said the doctor “turned me into a drug addict and sexually assaulted me for years.” In the years since the abuse ended, she said she had stopped taking care of her health or appearance and had largely withdrawn from society.

“I’m not living,” she said tearfully. “I’m just surviving. I’m just existing.”

Fred Sosinsky, Mr. Cruciani’s defense lawyer, told the judge that legal precedent demanded that she vacate his client’s sentence “not because anyone believes that’s the fairest thing to happen, but because in New York State, as the law exists and has existed for 55 years, that’s the law.”

During his medical career, Mr. Cruciani built a reputation as a compassionate neurologist who listened to his patients and possessed a rare ability to treat cases of chronic pain.

But dozens of patients charged that his reputation concealed a dark pattern of overprescribing pain medication that left them addicted to powerful drugs and dependent on the whims of a sadistic doctor who exploited their vulnerability to demand sex in exchange for refills.

In 2017, Mr. Cruciani pleaded guilty to sexual assault in Pennsylvania and had to surrender his medical license and register as a sex offender, but he never served time in prison until the two weeks he spent on Rikers Island in August.

His monthlong trial centered on the accusations of six women he had treated around 2012 at Beth Israel Medical Center, now known as Mount Sinai Beth Israel, in Manhattan, and at facilities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

A jury found him guilty in July, and he died two weeks later. He was 68.

The women who spoke at the courthouse on Wednesday, only two of whom provided their names to the news media, described a similar experience with the doctor. First, there was a yearslong period where he gained their trust and affection and prescribed very high doses of medication, including opioids.

His patients had often spent years racked with pain caused by complex neurological conditions, and many had also had their pain doubted or discounted by physicians in the past. Several said they were grateful to Mr. Cruciani for taking them seriously and providing relief.

But once they became physically dependent on the drugs, he became emotionally and verbally abusive, they said, and began to demand sex in exchange for the renewal of their prescriptions. If they resisted, he would deny them their medication, subjecting them to a return of chronic pain along with the excruciating symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

Terrie Phoenix said Mr. Cruciani used his prescription pad to trap her in more than a decade of sexual abuse.

“I thought if I could just find another doctor to provide my medical care, I could break free,” she said. But Mr. Cruciani had made that impossible: Ms. Phoenix said over the years of her abuse, more than 30 other doctors looked at her charts, with the many medications he prescribed, and declined to take her on as a patient.

“I have lived in fear of the man who had my life in his hands, and even from the grave he continues to disrupt my life,” she said.

Ms. Tullin told the court that her years of abuse at the hands of Mr. Cruciani had caused “a tsunami of trauma” that included depression, anxiety, suicide attempts, nightmares and flashbacks, a fear of doctors and an inability to trust other people.

“I guess I’m the very definition of complex PTSD,” she said.

Another woman, speaking with all five victims standing by her side, their arms linked, said she did not realize the doctor was overprescribing her medications until it was too late.

She became physically dependent and began to experience symptoms of withdrawal. She said she went to see him to get her prescription renewed, and that was the first time he demanded sex.

“I really thought he was sweet and I trusted him so much and was grateful toward him,” she said. “I couldn’t believe he was seeing me shaking and sweating and so sick and he made me do things to get my prescription.”

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