Psych Crime Reporter

April 29, 2010

Mental health counselor Andrew Phillips suspended pending state’s charges of sex with teenage client

On April 20, 2010, the Washington State Department of Health (DoH) issued an immediate summary suspension on registered counselor Andrew Phillips.  He cannot practice until the outcome of a hearing.

According to the DoH’s document, between July and August 2009, Phillips provided drug and alcohol counseling to a 17-year-old female client.  Between approximately October 2009 and November 2009, the client was placed with Phillips and his wife in the course of a dependency action.

Between these latter dates, Phillips is alleged to have engaged in sexual misconduct with the teenager, including but not limited to hugging and kissing the client, fondling client’s breasts, sexual intercourse and oral sex.

Source: Statement of Charges in the Matter of Andrew B. Phillips, Credential No. RC 60010154, Case No. M2010-314, State of Washington Department of Health, filed April 20, 2010.


Vincent Festa, former New York school psychologist, charged with violating sex offender laws

A retired school psychologist who is a registered sex offender was arrested on Thursday for failing to register Internet service providers and e-mail addresses, Suffolk County police said.

Vincent Festa, a Level 3 sex offender, was using e-mail addresses and Internet service providers that he failed to register as required by the New York State Sex Offender Registration Act, police said.

Computer Crimes Unit and Special Victims Section detectives executed a search warrant at Festa’s home where computers, hard drives and assorted storage media were seized on April 13.

Festa, 80, of Ronkonkoma, was charged with sex offender registration violation, a felony.

Festa, who was the psychologist at Herricks High School was  sentenced in July 1995 to 5 years’ probation after pleading guilty to sodomizing teenage boys.

Festa was indicted on 11 counts, including third-degree sodomy, sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child, after six teenage boys from the Ronkonkoma area came forward in 1993.  He was accused of enticing the boys to his home to do lawn work and then abusing them. None of the victims were Herricks students.

Festa originally pleaded innocent but later agreed to plead guilty to three counts of third-degree sodomy.

Source: Patrick Kelton “Sex Offender Charged With Failing to Register E-mail,” Long Island Press, April 22, 2010 and Deepti Hajela, “Ex-School Psychologist Sentenced in Sex Abuse,” Newsday, July 11, 1995.

April 21, 2010

Psychiatrist Steven L. Kaplan ousted by Florida Medicaid, relative to death of 7-year-old

State healthcare regulators have booted from the state Medicaid program a Miami psychiatrist who had prescribed a cocktail of potent mental health drugs to an autistic, 12-year-old boy who later died of complications from over-medication.

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversees the state Medicaid program for the needy and disabled, has notified Dr. Steven L. Kaplan that he has been terminated from the insurance program effective May 17, said Tiffany Vause, an agency spokeswoman in Tallahassee.

Vause said Kaplan, like all Medicaid providers, had signed a “voluntary contract” with the state. “The agency elected to terminate the agreement as it was believed to be in the interest of the program to do so.”

“We will be working to ensure a smooth transition of care for his patients,” Vause added.

Kaplan declined to speak with a Miami Herald reporter Tuesday.

Kaplan, who treats about 800 patients — most of them disabled or impoverished children — was the subject of a report in The Herald on Monday. The story said administrators at three state agencies had expressed concerns about Kaplan’s prescribing of psychiatric drugs to disabled children before and after the May 23, 2007, death of 12-year-old Denis Maltez.

Denis, who weighed 70 pounds, had been on three different mental health drugs, two of them in the maximum dose, at the time he died, a consultant for the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities wrote.

“In combination, all three of these agents have additive effects as a central nervous system depressant,” the consultant, psychiatrist Jorge J. Villalba, wrote. The drugs, he added, “may have been contributing factors in the client’s death.”

The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office attributed the boy’s death to Serotonin Syndrome, also called Serotonin Toxicity, which can occur when an excess of medications causes the body to produce too much serotonin, a chemical that helps brain and nerve cells to function.

Over the past few years the University of South Florida, acting on behalf of the state healthcare agency, had sent Kaplan several letters suggesting he reconsider his prescribing practices.  “He said he had been practicing long enough to know how to treat his patients and was tired of being told what to do,” a pharmacist working for USF wrote following a visit to Kaplan’s office in May 2009.

Most affected by Kaplan’s termination will be clients of Florida’s Agency for Persons with Disabilities, many of whom have been treated by him.

Melanie Etters, an APD Tallahassee spokeswoman, said the healthcare agency will be notifying Kaplan’s patients that he will no longer be able to receive Medicaid payments.

“APD will also let [disability caseworkers], residential providers, and Family Care Council members know about Dr. Kaplan’s termination as a Medicaid provider. We will also let them know of other psychiatrists serving the Miami area,” Etters wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

“APD is supportive of this reasonable and responsible action by our sister agency to protect the health and safety of the people we serve,” Etters added.

Martha Quesada, Denis’ mother, declined to speak with a Herald reporter Tuesday. Quesada’s lawsuit against the psychiatrist still is pending in Miami-Dade circuit court.

“Unfortunately, Florida has no procedure to protect the patients of physicians who write behavioral health care prescriptions that exceed thresholds and who blatantly ignore the ‘red flag’ letters from the University of South Florida Medicaid Drug Therapy Program,” said Quesada’s attorney, Howard Talendfeld.

“Nor does the state tell the parents or guardians of mentally disabled persons or foster children that these drugs prescriptions may be dangerous or monitor whether or not the physicians obtained informed consent from them.”

Source: Carol Marbin Miller, “Medicaid ousts Miami psychiatrist who gave potent drugs to boy who later died from overmedication,” Miami Herald, April 21, 2010

Virginia suspends psychologist David A. Zoll for sex with former patient

On January 21, 2010, the Virginia Board of Psychology suspended the license of psychologist David A. Zoll for a period of no less than 18 months for a violations of state Regulations Govern the Practice of Psychology.

The Board’s document states that Zoll began a sexual relationship with a former patient in November 2007, following the termination of the therapeutic relationship with the patient, who had been his client for more than six years and who had a history of sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, stress and marital issues.

Zoll testified in his hearing that he chose to enter into the relationship with the former client despite having legal knowledge of the prohibition and the possible consequences.

Source: Order In Re: David A. Zoll, Ph.D., License No. 0810-001462, Case No. 123156, Before the Virginia Board of Psychology, filed January 21, 2010.

April 10, 2010

Oregon State hospital psychiatrist Michael Robinson reassigned to “non-patient” duties following investigation of patient’s death; hospital superintendent forced to resign

A shakeup is continuing at the Oregon State Hospital in the wake of a state investigation that found the hospital neglected a patient who died at the Salem psychiatric facility last fall.

Dr. Michael Robinson, a psychiatrist who oversaw the treatment of Moises Perez on hospital Ward 50F, has been reassigned to nonpatient duties, Patty Wentz, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, said Thursday.

Robinson, who has worked at OSH since September 2001, was given new duties Wednesday, pending the outcome of a follow-up investigation by the hospital’s human-resources department, Wentz said.

Interim hospital superintendent Nena Strickland said the HR investigation would scrutinize the job-related performance of “all of the staff and managers who had an impact on the care of Mr. Perez on 50F.”

After the HR review is finished, potential personnel actions could range from disciplinary action to additional training, education or coaching, Strickland said.

Perez was found dead in his hospital bed Oct. 17.

A five-month investigation by the State Office of Investigations and Training determined the hospital neglected Perez by failing to provide him with adequate medical care.

Investigators reported that Perez’s caregivers on Ward 50F failed to properly treat his chronic medical conditions, failed to develop a “meaningful” treatment plan for him, failed to update his medical chart with notes about his condition and failed to return calls from his family in the last weeks of his life.

Perez reportedly was shunned by other patients because he had poor hygiene. He ate meals by himself, rarely left the ward or took part in activities, refused his medications because he thought they were killing him, and spent much of his time sleeping, according to the report.

An autopsy determined that Perez, 42, died of coronary artery disease.

Hospital Superintendent Roy Orr was forced to resign last Friday, the same day the state released the report documenting flaws and failings in Perez’s care.

State Human Services Director Bruce Goldberg told the hospital’s advisory board Wednesday that new leadership was needed to bring “a greater sense of urgency” to the state’s push for better patient care.

A national search will be launched to seek Orr’s replacement, Goldberg said.

Meanwhile, hospital officials plan to assign another psychiatrist to assume Robinson’s patient-care duties on Ward 50F.

Robinson’s new duties consist of reviewing patient medical charts.

“One of the issues brought up by the OIT report is making sure we have the progress notes in the charts and that people are charting the medical information correctly,” Wentz said. “So he’s going to be looking at that.”

Source: Alan Gustafson, “Doctor associated with patient’s death reassigned,” Statesman-Journal, April 9, 2010.

Pennsylvania psychologist Michael Degilio ordered to stand trial on charge of forcing patient to perform sex act on him

A psychologist from Carbon County faced the woman Friday who said she was forced to perform a sex act on him.

A magisterial district judge decided there was enough evidence against Michael Degileo to face trial.

“It wasn’t a surprise. The burden at a preliminary hearing is lower than at trial but we got what we needed, was a look at the alleged victim and see how she testified and heard her testimony,” said defense attorney John Waldron.

The 40-year-old mother from Lehighton testified she suffered a nervous breakdown, was depressed and had suicidal thoughts when a mental hospital referred her to psychologist Degileo for treatment.

The woman testified during an office visit Degileo kissed her, told her he loved women and sex and forced her to preform a sex act on him.

“She was claiming these things happened and I took the position today, if they did happen she consented,” said Waldron. He added it’s not a question of whether or not Degileo crossed the professional line. He explained that is a different issue and it’s not criminal.

Prosecutors would not talk publicly about their case.

Michael Degileo’s next appearance will be in May at the Carbon County courthouse. He has surrendered his license to practice and a decision on whether he will ever be able to practice will be decided after the court case.

Source: Bob Reynolds, “Psychologist Ordered to Trial for Sex Crimes,” WNEP-TV 16 (Moosic, Pennsylvania), April 9, 2010.

North Carolina psychologist Michael Streppa suspended on charges of “abusive” sexual relationship with patient

Officials with the state psychology board have suspended a Morganton psychologist’s license.

He is accused of having a sexual relationship with a patient.

The North Carolina Psychology Board suspended Michael Streppa’s license on March 9, said Martha Storie, the board’s executive director, and he is not allowed to practice as a psychologist while his license is suspended.

The board received two complaints against Streppa, 45, that allege he “engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a patient” over the course of about two years.

The patient is not named in the board’s order of summary suspension or in a letter it sent to Streppa.

The letter from Storie and the board, dated April 1, says Streppa started treating the patient in 2004 when she was 16 years old, but an intimate relationship didn’t begin until June 2008. By that time, the patient was 21 years old.

The letter says Streppa terminated the patient’s treatment on April 27, 2009. According to the order of summary suspension, the intimate relationship continued until the patient was hospitalized in February.

The letter states, “The sexually intimate relationship between you and patient X, which was abusive in nature, also included dangerous situations that you participated in with patient X, involving individuals that were not known by you or patient X, are all documented in electronic mail correspondence.”

The patient was hospitalized on Feb. 15, the letter says, and told hospital staff about the relationship with Streppa.

Staff psychologists and the state psychology board’s investigators met with Streppa on March 5, but he refused to be interviewed, according to the board’s letter.

It details the state statutes and ethical standards the board believes he violated, including a prohibition against engaging in a sexual relationship with a patient.

Based on the complaints and Streppa’s unwillingness to respond to the board’s investigation, “the board finds that the public health, safety and welfare require that the board take emergency action” to suspend Streppa’s license.

Streppa resigned on March 12 from Broughton Hospital, where he served as a senior psychologist 1, said Mark Van Sciver, a spokesman for the state. Streppa started at Broughton on Dec. 12, 1998. Van Sciver said Broughton has no complaints or investigations against Streppa.

Storie said the alleged relationship developed through Streppa’s private practice.

The state first licensed Streppa on April 30, 1997. Storie said Streppa has not been the object of any board actions in the past.

Streppa may answer the allegations against him during a hearing expected to occur during the state psychology board’s meeting May 5-7 in Greensboro. Streppa or the board has the right to request a postponement of the hearing, Storie said, but the suspension would remain in effect.

Streppa also could negotiate a consent order with the board before the hearing, Storie said. Both parties have to agree on a consent order. She said such an order could result in anything from dismissing the charges against Streppa to revoking his license.

After the hearing, the board will issue a final decision regarding the allegations, the board’s letter says.
Numerous efforts by The News Herald to reach Streppa for comment were unsuccessful.

Source: “Board suspends psychologist’s license,” The News Herald, April 9, 2010.

April 6, 2010

District Attorney will ask medical board to re-open investigation of Rebecca Riley’s psychiatrist

Rebecca Riley was only four years old when she was found dead of an overdose of clonidine, a blood pressure drug commonly used in children diagnosed as having “bipolar disorder” and “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

Kayoko Kifuji, of Tufts Medical Center, is the child psychiatrist that prescribed clonidine and the psychiatric drugs Depakote (an anti-seizure drug) and Seroquel (an antipsychotic) for Riley and her two older siblings.

Following Riley’s death, Kifuji entered into a voluntary agreement with the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine to halt her practice.  She was investigated by a grand jury that declined to indict her.  The Board also completed its inquiry.  Kifuji was allowed to return to practice last fall.

Riley’s parents were both charged with murder in Rebecca’s death.  Both testified they had only followed doctor’s orders in administering the drugs to Rebecca.  Both were recently found guilty in separate trials.

Kifuji was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony in both trials.

The psychiatrist’s testimony regarding her treatment beliefs and practices has generated reactions ranging from shock and confusion to outrage directed at what is perceived as Kifuji’s role in Riley’s death.

Because the testimonies offered at the grand jury and medical board hearings were kept secret, the Riley trials provided the public the first details of Kifuji’s management of the Riley children.  Some of the facts from the transcripts include:

Kifuji diagnosed at least two of the Riley children, while toddlers, with mental disorders after only a one-hour consultation, did not order appropriate blood work while they were on potent pills and seemingly ignored input from preschool teachers and other clinicians who said the children seemed weak and overmedicated.

Kifuji believed testimony from the children as young as three regarding “hallucinations” about monsters to support the bipolar diagnosis while discounting any other information reported by the children as “unreliable.”

Kifuji repeatedly allowed, without drawing any effective limits, Carolyn Riley to increase the doses of clonidine she gave her children.  For her last month of life, Kifuji overall prescribed 835 pills to Rebecca.

Rebecca at age three, gained nine pounds in two months on Zyprexa, the first antipsychotic drug she was prescribed by Kifuji.

Kifuji waited 15 months into treatment before recommending counseling/psychotherapy for Rebecca.  There is no mention of ever recommending any parenting or family therapy for the parents.

Kifuji continues to insist her diagnosis was
correct even when it was pointed out that the children’s symptoms literally disappeared overnight when the mother was out of the home for four days and the father was left in charge of the children.

Based on these revelations, Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz said he plans to ask the Board of Registration in Medicine to reopen its investigation of Kifuji, who he has said turned a blind eye to the numerous signs that the parents were troubled and reckless in dispensing drugs.

“Dr. Kifuji is unfit to have a medical license,” he said.  “If what Dr. Kifuji did in this case is the acceptable standard of care for children in Massachusetts, then there is something very wrong in this state.”

Cruz said he plans to assemble the transcripts of her testimony, among other things, to present to the licensing board.  According to Cruz, that information shows not only that Kifuji operates on the controversial idea that toddlers can be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but that she was negligent in her assessment and follow-up with patient.

Source: Patricia Wen, “Father guilty in girl’s fatal drugging,” Boston Globe, March 27, 2010; Lawrence Diller, “Wholesale sedation of young children: Medically, morally indefensible,” Patriot Ledger, March 27, 2010 and Lane Lambert, “Rebecca Riley’s doctor now the target of a grand jury,” Patriot Ledger, May 1, 2009.

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