NEW YORK (AP) — Federal prosecutors in New York began laying out their case Monday against Robert Hadden, the former gynecologist accused of sexually abusing numerous patients over nearly two decades, including the wife of former presidential candidate Andrew Yang.
The grand jury indictment said Hadden sexually abused patients from 1993 to 2012 while he worked at two prestigious Manhattan hospitals, Columbia University Irving Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
The institutions have already agreed to pay more than $236 million to settle civil claims by more than 200 former patients.
The federal case against Hadden focuses on only a few of those women. Prosecutors say Hadden invited his victims to meet him alone in his office, where he used the trust and rapport he developed with patients to engage in increasingly abusive behavior under the guise of legitimate medical care.
This included inappropriate and unnecessary breast and pelvic examinations.
In her opening statement to the jury, defense attorney Deirdre Von Dornum acknowledged that Hadden had harmed the women. The former doctor, now 64, pleaded guilty to the charges seven years ago and admitted to sexually abusing patients.
But Von Dornum asked the jury to acquit Hadden of federal charges accusing him of luring women across state lines to be abused, saying the doctor was unaware that patients had traveled to him from places including New Jersey and Nevada.
“The allegations are horrific and shocking,” she said, warning jurors that she was not urging them to feel sorry for Hadden, but asked them to listen carefully to the women who will testify about being abused and hear what they have to say.
She said “the question is not whether there was inappropriate activity or sexual abuse,” but whether Hadden knew in advance which patient to see on which days.
“Quit, convict him,” the lawyer urged, adding, “Don’t convict him for a crime he didn’t commit.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni urged jurors to convict the doctor, who he said assaulted “patient after patient” year after year.
Several of Hadden’s victims will testify during the trial, along with nurses who said they witnessed Hadden touching patients inappropriately.
One of the women, who testified under the pseudonym “Kate Evans,” described in detail how she was abused. She told the court how she rushed to the hospital toilet to wipe herself with paper towels and soap after Hadden touched her pelvic area with his gloved fingers and mouth.
“I was so stunned and shocked,” the New Jersey woman testified. “I knew they were taking advantage of me. I was scared.”
She returned home feeling “disgusting and dirty”. She got into the shower at home.
“I think I tried to wash it all away. I didn’t know what else to do.”
For Hadden’s prosecutors, the federal case represents a second chance for a harsher sentence for the doctor. In 2016, Hadden surrendered his medical license in a plea deal with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, but did not have to serve any jail time.
The subsequent outcry during the height of the #MeToo movement prompted other women to come forward, including Evelyn Yang, the wife of Democrat Andrew Yang, who is running for president in 2020 and mayor of New York in 2022.
In 2020, she said Hadden sexually assaulted her eight years ago, even though she was seven months pregnant. Yang called the sentence in the state case a “slap on the wrist.”
Then-District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. defended his decision. Because a conviction was not guaranteed, he argued, his office sought a plea deal that would have prevented Hadden from practicing medicine and from stalking other women.
Yang is not one of the women at the center of the federal case and is not scheduled to testify. However, her public discussion of the case helped raise its profile. Last year, the New York Legislature passed a law that temporarily set time limits for victims of sexual abuse to sue their alleged predators.
The Associated Press generally withholds the names of sexual abuse victims in stories unless they choose to go public with their stories, which Yang and others have done.
Hadden, who lives in Englewood, New Jersey, is out on $1 million bail as of 2020 while awaiting trial.
Prosecutor Monteleoni said the victims went through “experiences that, in some cases, they could not talk about for years; experiences that scarred them.”
He added: “These victims would have given anything to prevent this from happening.”
“Objection!” cried von Dornum.
“Overruled,” replied Judge Richard M. Berman.