By MICHAEL RUBINKAM Associated Press
A major New York City hospital ignored a star physician’s rampant sexual abuse of patients, turning a blind eye to what he was doing to them behind closed exam-doom doors because his thriving pain practice was generating so much money, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.
Officials at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in Manhattan knew Dr. Ricardo Cruciani was a serial abuser but failed to report him to law enforcement or licensing authorities for more than a decade, nor did they warn future employers about the threat he posed, 19 former patients allege in court documents.
“By pursuing this lawsuit, these brave survivors seek accountability for the devastation that they and others have suffered and continue to endure,” said John Pumphrey, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
Mount Sinai Beth Israel had no immediate comment on the allegations. The 799-bed teaching hospital, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, employed Cruciani between 2001 and 2014.
The pain doctor killed himself at New York’s notorious Rikers Island jail complex last August after a jury convicted him of 12 criminal counts, including rape. All six women who testified against Cruciani at his criminal trial are plaintiffs in the civil suit brought against the hospital, its parent health system and Cruciani’s estate.
The claim was filed under New York’s Adult Survivors Act, a recent state law that opened a one-year window for adult survivors to sue over sexual abuse that took place years or even decades ago.
Cruciani was a renowned, Ivy League-trained neurologist who specialized in rare, debilitating syndromes. He exploited patients who were desperate for relief from chronic pain, overprescribing powerful painkillers “to control his patients, facilitate his sexual assaults, and trap them,” the suit said.
The abuse was an “open secret” among Cruciani’s colleagues, the suit said, with a nurse practitioner once telling a patient that Cruciani “can get very handsy, so watch yourself,” and Cruciani’s direct supervisor admitting the neurologist “had an impulse control problem” and “couldn’t control himself.” A nurse even walked in on Cruciani while he was exposing himself to a patient but did not report it, the lawsuit said.
Over the years, at least 13 patients reported Cruciani’s misconduct to various staff members and officials at the hospital, but the hospital “concealed and covered up multiple complaints about Cruciani’s misconduct within its organization to continue to reap substantial revenue from Cruciani’s patients and their insurers,” the suit said.
Tanisha Johnson, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement released by her lawyer that the hospital “did nothing to protect us, help us or even acknowledge us.”
Cruciani’s misconduct first came to the public’s attention in 2017, in Philadelphia, where he was chief neurologist at Drexel University’s medical school and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor groping counts involving seven patients.
At the time of his death, Cruciani had also been scheduled to go on trial on federal charges that he attacked patients at offices in New York, Philadelphia and Hopewell Township, New Jersey. He also was facing state charges in New Jersey.
“The hospitals that employed Cruciani have as much blood on their hands as he did,” said Hillary Tullin, another plaintiff and former patient of Cruciani.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are survivors of sexual assault unless they grant permission, which Tullin and Johnson have done.