Another patient has come forward and accused an Orlando doctor forced to give up his license of sexual assault.
Dr. Gopal Basisht was profiled in The Palm Beach Post’s investigation on physicians accused of molesting their patients.
The Florida Department of Health in June accepted Basisht’s ermanent relinquishment of his license to practice medicine. The Post discovered, though, that it took nearly four years for the state to act after the initial complaint.
A new lawsuit filed by patient Lauren Kusner says Basisht committed sexual battery during an appointment in February. She says Basisht, a rheumatologist, told her to lay down and massaged her breasts and her genitals.
When a sobbing Kusner tried to leave the office, Basisht put his arms around her and said, “I love you,” the lawsuit alleges.
Kusner’s attorney Adam Horowitz provided evidence that there have been more than a half dozen sexual assault complaints lodged by patients with law enforcement against Dr. Basisht
Other women say they are sexually victimized by their physician.
And while some South Florida doctors eventually lose or give up their licenses, others continue to practice even after they admit to sexual misconduct on a patient, a Palm Beach Post investigation led by its sister newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, found. A convoluted complaint system in Florida can end up protecting these doctors, giving them every opportunity to mitigate discipline.
“I feel I failed somehow. I didn’t get any justice,” Basham says of her criminal sexual battery case against Dr. Manuel Abreu. “It has been all for nothing.”
The case fell apart when Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Charles Burton barred other alleged victims from testifying, saying he was “concerned about the credibility” of the potential witnesses.
Now she waits.
She waits to see whether the Florida Department of Health acts on her complaint against Abreu, hoping, she says, he loses his ability to practice.
“I just wanted Abreu to be accountable and for people to be safe from him,” Basham said. “I feel so bad for the other victims. It’s so humiliating.”
Basham is a professional singer from Palm Beach Gardens who performs at posh resorts and private clubs. She told police Dr. Abreu “digitally penetrated” her through her underwear and caressed her buttocks during a procedure at his Delray Beach office to aspirate an infected cyst on the side of her leg above the knee, according to an August 2012 police report.
Abreu denied sexual misconduct with any patient, according to court documents.
The cyst left behind a ragged four-inch scar. She says her internal scars are worse.
She can’t sleep. She bristles at anybody trying to touch her — even in a platonic way. Starting a relationship is out of the question. She is leery of any physician. Her rambunctious Boston terrier, Giacomo, remains her only solace.
Even adult patients
cannot legally give consent
There is no such thing as consent between a doctor and patient when it comes to sex. Not ever.
“A patient shall be presumed to be incapable of giving free, full, and informed consent to sexual activity with his or her physician,” state law reads.
“It seems like doctors protect doctors Basham said. “I thought it was supposed to be patients first.”
The Post investigation found:
Despite multiple complaints from patients, the public can be left largely unaware because the state Board of Medicine’s website lists doctors’ licenses as “clear and active” until probable cause is found — a process that can take years.
The Health Department has the power to seek an emergency suspension of a physician’s license in cases that pose “an immediate and serious danger to the public health,” but the department applies such a crucial standard inconsistently.
When the state finds a doctor engaged in sexual misconduct, typically the physician is allowed by the licensing board to keep practicing with restrictions — such as a prohibition on examining female patients or children — and a fine and community service.
Attorneys who represent women bringing suit against these doctors say they prey on some victims with a history of mental illness, trauma or addiction, privy to the information from their medical histories.
The Health Department insists the public’s safety comes first and that disciplinary matters are addressed in a timely and fair manner.
“We can assure the public that we will be diligent and thorough in protecting them from unsafe or unscrupulous health care practices,” spokesman Brad Dalton said. “The Department of Health has a robust investigative and enforcement team that is dedicated to receiving, reviewing and investigating consumer complaints.”
Florida law prohibits the state from even acknowledging to the public that it has received a complaint or will take action against a practitioner until after a long investigative process — and only if probable cause is found.
Why it can take years
to discipline doctors
Dr. Steven P. Rosenberg, the immediate past chairman and current member of the Board of Medicine, said neither the board nor the Health Department is at fault for delays in disciplining doctors.
Defense attorneys can opt for any of numerous avenues to challenge disciplinary recommendations even before the case gets in front of the board.
When the board acts, doctors still can appeal emergency suspensions and disciplinary orders to state appellate courts, further extending a doctor’s ability to practice.
“It is frustrating for members of the board when we feel our opportunities to resolve cases are delayed,” said Rosenberg, a West Palm Beach dermatologist.
One such example was Lake Worth osteopath, Dr. David Simon, accused of using “punishment therapy” that involved handcuffs, blindfolds, a whip and other implements of sadomasochism on a female patient complaining of depression.
“It is the legal system that circumvents the disciplinary process,” Rosenberg said. “We would welcome the Legislature to give us more authority.”
Before a complaint ever reaches a medical board for discipline, the process within the Health Department is convoluted. A flow chart that illustrates how a complaint against a physician is handled reads like a schematic to a nuclear warhead.
The Health Department investigates complaints against physicians, determines whether probable cause exists and presents the case against the doctor in front of the licensing board.
As a result, it can be years before an administrative complaint shows up on an accused doctor’s disciplinary record.
“Patients have a right to know what their doctors are accused of, whether it be Medicaid fraud or sexual assault,” said Fort Lauderdale attorney Adam Horowitz, who represents 20 women claiming they were sexually abused by their doctor.
“So while these charges are pending administratively with the Department of Health, an unsuspecting consumer — doing all the right things, by checking out their doctor, by going online to see whether the license is in good standing — has no idea.”
Horowitz said suing the doctor is often an alleged victim’s only resort and — in the case of Basham — lit a fire under law enforcement and prosecutors, if not the Health Department.
“Doctors end up getting the benefit of the doubt,” Horowitz said. “When you have multiple victims, when you have certain pieces of evidence that corroborate, when you have an arrest made, the Department of Health needs to act.”
Dr. Michael Latterman of Miami Beach pleaded guilty in 2002 to three counts of lewd and lascivious conduct on a 14-year-old boy, who was not a patient. He was sentenced to nine years of probation.
He enrolled in the Professionals Resource Network, a referral service for “impaired” health-care practitioners. Its website says doctors volunteer to participate “instead of being reported to or by DOH” (the Department of Health), thus limiting “the negative impact on his/her life.” PRN is a nonprofit financed in part by a contract with the Health Department.
In November 2004, he was arrested after an adult male psychiatric patient accused the doctor of unzipping his pants and fondling him in the emergency room at Larkin Hospital in South Miami.
Then the Health Department learned Latterman had been seeing children during the time he wasn’t supposed to, the first a 5-year-old and only 11 days after he started practicing again.
Latterman surrendered his license in late 2005. He said the 2004 charge on the Larkin incident was dropped, but he ended up serving a little more than a year in prison after pleading guilty to a probation violation, according to prison records.
Latterman denied in an interview with The Post ever abusing or having sexual relations with any patient. He said it wasn’t the incident at the hospital that violated his probation, adult pornography found on his computer.
He said emergency room workers who witnessed Latterman with the psychiatric patient were willing to testify that the claims were false.
Latterman acknowledged treating the minors but said the cases were “emergency situations” that did not involve examinations of the children’s genitalia. Also, two nurses were in the room, he said.
even for a prisoner
While the Health Department investigated sexual molestation charges against one doctor, they found him in federal prison.
A Health Department’s administrative complaint in 2005 against Dr. Richard Allen Hill noted his address as Yazoo City Federal Correctional Institution in Mississippi.
While he was working in Vero Beach, Stuart and Davie, a Martin County animal control officer told police she went to see a doctor at Monterey Medical Health Services for a thyroid issue, but Hill came in to the examining room, pulled up her shirt and bra and touched her breast.
The doctor she was supposed to see later told her there was no reason for Hill to examine her breast.
After her report, at least five more women in Vero Beach came forward to say they were also fondled. Hill pleaded no contest to five misdemeanor battery charges in Indian River County and was adjudicated guilty. The Martin County case was dropped, records indicate.
Today, Hill practices in Fort Lauderdale. His license is listed as active with “obligations,” permanently requiring him to be chaperoned by a female health care worker when examining women patients.
A former champion international kickboxer, Hill was “notorious for ‘shopping’ the waiting room for good-looking women,” Dr. Glynnis Lyons told the Martin County patient, according to the Health Department’s administrative complaint. Hill had crossed off Lyons’ name from the patient’s chart, writing his own name instead before he examined her, the complaint said.
When police arrested Hill in May 2004, detectives said he hid in a closet with his 2-year-old son. He later proclaimed his innocence, saying he always examined a patient’s entire body and because his sister died of breast cancer, he wanted to make sure his patients did not show signs of the disease.
Hill declined to comment to The Post for this story.
His attorney in 2004 described Hill at the time as a “hands-on doctor.”
Feeling for a pulse
on the inner thigh
While questionable breast exams were Hill’s undoing, another doctor insisted on taking the pulse of some female patients in the inner thigh. Four women alleged Dr. Shaheed Kalloo molested them during the heartbeat check. They were among 10 women who came forward to say the West Palm Beach internist fondled or molested them during exams.
The Yale graduate served as the attending physician in the psychiatric unit of what was once Columbia Hospital in West Palm Beach. Several of the accusers were mental patients with a history of making false claims and were part of a “scheme to make money,” according to Kalloo’s lawyer, then-Riviera Beach Mayor Michael Brown.
According to an arrest report, a 19-year-old woman, described as having the mental ability of a 12-year-old, complained that Kalloo touched her inappropriately during exams in late 2005 or early 2006, including when she was hospitalized in the mental health ward of Columbia.
Kalloo was charged with multiple counts of battery but in May 2009 pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge and served a sentence of three months on house arrest “as a matter of convenience.” The Board of Medicine ordered him to pay a $10,000 fine in 2010 and not treat females.
After going to PRN to be evaluated, the board said in 2011 that Kalloo could treat female patients as long as he put up a sign in his office lobby and exam room that stated he is not to examine a female patient without another female health-care worker present.
When contacted at his office, Kalloo’s medical assistant vigorously defended the physician, saying the patients who accused him had a history of mental illness and that he has complied with all requirements to retain his license.
“This is an old story where he was falsely accused,” said Brenda Lavorano, Kalloo’s medical assistant. “Doctors with malpractice insurance especially are targets. A lot of doctors don’t have malpractice insurance because of that threat.”
“To be falsely accused by a patient with psychiatric problems who had been in a psychiatric hospital was very destructive,” Lavorano said. “It caused him a lot of professional financial issues as well as personal financial issues.”
Kalloo said he took the femoral pulse of some of the alleged victims for medical reasons, such as one patient suffering from migraines and arteriosclerosis in the lower extremities. One told police the doctor spent 10 to 15 minutes checking her pulse after putting his hand down her underwear.
Another patient said Kalloo pulled down her pants and gave her a vaginal exam despite her insistence that she had a gynecologist. Kalloo said he was checking for cysts. At least three of the victims told police they were prescribed pain medication by Kalloo.
Susan Ramsey is a West Palm Beach attorney who represents women accusing doctors of sexual misconduct. She also is a former emergency room registered nurse and found it suspicious that a doctor would take a femoral pulse.
Ramsey added that the power doctors have over their patients is akin to that of priests and parishioners.
“The context of the relationship is no different,” she said. “The similarity is the secrecy.”
It is why SNAP — Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — has gotten involved, protesting against doctors accused of sexual misconduct.
“The doctor is considered one of the highest professions and thus they are to be trusted,” said Barbara Dorris, victims outreach director of SNAP. “You let your guard down with them. You are encouraged to tell them everything. That makes you very vulnerable.”
Ramsey said in her experience the Health Department and the boards overseeing doctors do very little to protect the public.
“It’s a sad tale of woe. I don’t understand why the department doesn’t take more aggressive action on this. Sometimes they don’t even investigate,” Ramsey said.
She said too often the Health Department ties its conclusions to a criminal case against an accused doctor. While the burden of proof in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt, in a licensing matter it is a lower bar: clear and convincing evidence, Ramsey said.
Still, the Health Department can be asked to hold off on its investigation if law enforcement is building a criminal case. “We don’t have to delay, but when asked by law enforcement, we respect that request,” Dalton said.
A recent analysis found that the Health Department took an average of 434 days to resolve charges of misconduct against doctors, nurses and other health care workers, according to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.
4 years from complaint
to doctor giving up license
It was nearly four years after a woman complained to police before Orlando rheumatologist Dr. Gopal Basisht agreed to give up his license. When the Board of Medicine met on June 3, he didn’t even show up.
His alleged victim, Astrid Ebner, testified to a stunned board that Basisht groped her genitals during an exam on June 5, 2012. Ebner told the board she later learned that other women had gone to Orlando police to say they were molested by Basisht.
“What happened to me was absolutely atrocious,” she testified. “He was harming me physically and he was getting a kick out of it. … I know he would continue to do this if he has a chance.”
The Health Department’s administrative complaint detailed how another woman said Dr. Basisht pressed down hard on her vaginal area and repeatedly asked her if he was hurting her in a tone that made the patient believe “he was enjoying it.” “He also kept breathing heavily and made comments, such as, ‘Wow,’” the complaint reads.
“She sucked the air right out of the room,” said Nicholas Romanello, a West Palm Beach attorney who serves as a consumer member. “Every one of us was taken aback. It took a lot of courage to come forward and say, ‘I’m a victim.’”
However, Romanello declined to comment about whether it took too long for the department to resolve sexual misconduct complaints against doctors.
Sexual misconduct complaint
can ‘destroy a doctor’
Becky Cherney of Orlando served as a consumer member of the Board of Medicine for seven years before resigning in 2001 to protest the lack of severe penalties against doctors.
“We were there to protect the citizens of Florida, and we were not doing that,” she said. “I was a big thorn in the side of the board.”
She said there was a steady parade of cases involving sexual inappropriate behaviors by doctors and she would insist the doctors lose their license, but the doctors on the board would say she didn’t understand the technicalities because she wasn’t a physician.
“I said, “When I see a doctor is having sex with his patients, I don’t need to be a doctor to know it is wrong,’” Cherney explained.
The system errs on the side of the doctor with good reason, said Dr. Alan Pillersdorf, former president of the Florida Medical Association. He said the state does a good job of striking a balance between the public good and fairness to the accused physician.
“If you are going to destroy a doctor’s career without it being true, it’s horrible,” he said. “It can destroy a doctor who has spent his whole life trying to build his practice.”
Furthermore, the nature of sexual misconduct allegations makes them very difficult to prove.
“When something happens behind closed doors it is really hard to determine the truth,” Pillersdorf said. “Do I think there are doctors who unfortunately do things? Yes. But I don’t think there is a code of silence of people trying to build a wall.”
Former board Chairman Dr. Jason Rosenberg praised Health Department investigators, saying they are deluged. “Sex with a patient is not something that can be tolerated nor will the members of the Board of Medicine tolerate it,” he said. “But every case is different. It’s hard to generalize.”
He said there had been a discussion during his time on the board of how to alert the public if the Health Department is investigating a doctor. “When I left, I think they were working on it. They are aware of the issue,” he said.
The concern among physicians, he said, was the public would not be told the nature of the complaint. This would put doctors who failed to update their address in the same category as those accused of sexual battery.
Sexual battery arrests:
Some can’t practice; some can
When and how the Health Department seeks an emergency suspension of a physician’s license is inconsistent.
For instance, the department suspended Kalloo and Hill when criminal charges were filed, but no such action was taken against Abreu.
“A key factor in whether the license is restricted or suspended is the fact that the law requires the department to use the ‘least restrictive’ method of protecting the public,” Health Department spokesman Dalton said.
Horowitz said the lack of an emergency suspension in some cases goes unexplained to the public.
“There is no rhyme or reason to the Department of Health’s decision-making when it comes to issuing emergency suspension orders,” Horowitz said.
“I have seen emergency restrictions issued when two victims report sexual misconduct by the same practitioner even if there is no criminal charge filed. Yet, in other cases no emergency suspension was issued by the Department of Health even when a doctor has been criminally charged with sexual battery.”
Sometimes, the accusations against the doctor are so severe the Health Department acts immediately.
Former chief of staff
at PBG hospital accused of rape
When it came to Dr. Ignacio A. Magana, some of the accusations were rape. After he was arrested and bonded out of jail, he continued to see patients, his lawyer said at the time.
Magana was a prominent Harvard-educated neurosurgeon who served as the former chief of staff at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center. He also saw patients in Port St. Lucie and Vero Beach.
The Health Department cited in its emergency suspension Magana’s “flagrant indifference” to patient rights and “barefaced disregard” for his duties as a doctor after he was arrested in 2002 and charged raping a woman who relied on him for her workers compensation claim, promising to keep her benefits flowing.
While acquitted on that complaint in St. Lucie County, Magana pleaded guilty “in his best interest” to felony aggravated assault and a misdemeanor battery charge in connection with five complaints from patients in Palm Beach County. He got 15 years of probation.
The Department of Health had eight separate cases accusing Magana of allegations ranging from unwanted sexual advances to rape.
The administrative complaints on Magana are harrowing.
A patient identified only as C.S. said she was visiting her paralyzed husband, who was also under Magana’s care, at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center when Magana took her to his office to update her on her husband’s condition.
So Dr. Carlos Alberto Cohen of Delray Beach claimed that offering to take the victim’s blood pressure didn’t constitute a patient-doctor relationship. When the woman eventually fled the office, the doctor followed her home and stopped in the street at the end of her driveway, according to state records backing the suspension of his license for one year.
Cohen had offered to take the blood pressure of a 56-year-old home health-care worker on July 5, 2009. Afterward he pushed her against the wall, stuck his tongue in her mouth and pulled up her shirt to suck on her breast. Then he pulled down his pants, according to complaints, and pushed her head toward his groin.
The doctor said the woman was the one who made the initial sexual advances. Also, he did not charge her for the blood pressure check. He told her to come back later that day so he could help her find additional jobs as an aide. “He assumed and expected a physical encounter might occur based on her actions,” according to administrative court transcripts.
The alleged victim made a police report, but prosecutors never brought a case.
An administrative law judge found Cohen’s testimony “incredible” that the sex was consensual, saying it was clear that patient was not a willing participant. He said Cohen didn’t need to invite her back to his office because he could have helped her find work by telephone.
The Post could not find Cohen for comment.
The Board of Medicine suspended Cohen’s license for one year in January 2011 including conditions that he perform 100 hours of community service and pay a $5,000 fine. His medical license is listed as null and void because his license expired.
Handcuffs, blindfolds, whips
in ‘punishment therapy’?
Another doctor who claimed the sex was consensual was Simon, the osteopath who allegedly used “punishment therapy” on a patient suffering from depression.
Simon and the Health Department worked out a settlement for two years probation and a $10,000 fine, but the Board of Osteopathic Medicine rejected it in November 2013.
“If there was ever a time that this board would revoke a license for sexual misconduct, this is it,” said Dr. Ronald Burns, then board chairman. “We cannot have an osteopathic physician behaving like this.”
Simon’s attorney said that the complaint amounted to “adventurous sex between two adults” and threatened to challenge the board in front of an administrative judge.
The woman told sheriff investigators that the whipping started in late 2010. She didn’t want to do it, but Simon insisted it had helped others. After a “three-hour scary torture session” in November 2011, she called it quits, according to a Health News Florida story.
Though Simon said the sex occurred after she stopped being his patient, detectives found whips, chains, blindfolds, handcuffs and sexual paraphernalia in an exam room. She said Simon left her tied up in a closet then choked her. The following month she attempted suicide and was hospitalized, according to state records.
Simon, who is still practicing, declined to comment when contacted by The Post.
Targeting most vulnerable:
addicts, the mentally ill
Horowitz said he has learned by representing these victims that they fit a profile: Nearly all are women, and many have been diagnosed with mental illness or addiction. The doctors have access to their medical histories, privy to information the victims may share with no other.
“The targets tend be vulnerable people who are perceived to be weaker or not to be able to stand up for themselves and less likely to be believed,” said Horowitz, who is representing Basham among 20 victims accusing five doctors of sexual battery.
He has filed nine lawsuits against Abreu, four of which have settled. Abreu has filed for bankruptcy.
And indeed Basham fit the profile.
“I would always tell them I was abused as a child,” she said. “I know that they knew. It was all there.”
Maureen Nicholson of Weeki Wachee said Dr. Alfred E. Alingu knew she had a history of depression and had just ended an abusive relationship. Nicholson claims in police reports and a civil lawsuit that Alingu groped her vaginal area in December and said, “If I weren’t your doctor, you let me in here?”
“He knew all that and it makes me so angry,” Nicholson said. “He knew everything that was going on in my life and chose to ignore that and prey on me.”
Alingu’s attorney, Richard Ford, told The Post that the doctor denied the allegations.
The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating the physician since December. She also has complained to the Health Department. So she worries that while her cases linger, Dr. Alingu could be abusing patients.
His license reads clear and active.
“I — as a patient — have no way of knowing if these doctors have other complaints,” Nicholson said. “I’ve yet to hear back from the Health Department. It has literally been months and I have not heard a word them.”
’Things like that
don’t happen here’
Basham is also waiting to hear from the Health Department on her complaint. She said she feels the state agency allows doctors accused of sexual abuse to continue to practice. She doesn’t understand why the agency hasn’t acted against Abreu — who did not respond to a request for comment through his attorney.
The alleged assault occurred, Basham said, when he asked the nurse to leave the room to obtain a waterproof bandage. Basham reported the doctor immediately to the receptionist.
“She said, ‘No. No. No. Things like that don’t happen here.’”
\But they had, court documents allege.
Horowitz said he learned that Personal Physician Care had been put on notice that Dr. Abreu had been sexually inappropriate and had boundary issues with women.
A medical assistant who also was receiving care from Dr. Abreu told management in June 2012 that the doctor “scooped” her vagina. “What you do that for?” the woman asked Dr. Abreu, who “allegedly just laughed and left with a wicked smile,” according to a court document.
After the employee reported the incident to management, she said Dr. Abreu apologized but “complained that she did not have to go reporting him for it.”
After Basham went public and other women came forward against Abreu, police filed charges and he was jailed for several weeks as he struggled to make bail. He was fired by Personal Physician Care in June 2014.
Now that criminal charges have been dropped, Abreu can re-establish his practice.
“He is obviously happy with the outcome of the criminal cases having been dropped,” said his lawyer, Jack Fleischman. “He maintained his innocence from the very beginning, and now looks forward to moving forward with his life. I believe and am hopeful that the any further administrative review will now be over.”
Horowitz says he knows differently.
“There is an ongoing confidential investigation by the Health Department against Dr. Abreu, but it is not documented anywhere,” he said. “So the public would have no idea.”
As she waits for a call from the state, Basham takes solace in the fact that she was in court to see him face criminal charges.
“That was a beautiful moment that can never be taken away from me,” she said. “I protected other women. I exposed him and he is now accountable. I remember thinking I wiped that arrogant smirk off his face that day.”