A disgraced neurologist accused of sexual misconduct by multiple female patients pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges Wednesday and agreed to never practice medicine again under a deal in which he will face no jail-time.
Dr. Ricardo Cruciani, 63, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor indecent assault during his scheduled preliminary hearing on Tuesday and agreed to seven years registration as a sex offender, 15 years on the Megan's Law registry, agreed to relinquish his medical license and to never practice medicine again.
Victim Sara Hicks, 31, of Trenton, who spoke at Cruciani’s hearing, said outside court that she was shocked the doctor would face no jail time, despite pleading guilty to sexual misconduct with seven women.
“I really thought in this time of Weinstein and these other things there would be something,” Hicks said outside of court. “To see nothing, it’s difficult.”
Since the original charges were filed, additional women have come forward, with an estimated 17 women now identified as having at various points reported sexual misconduct while Cruciani worked at Drexel, Capital Health in New Jersey and Beth Israel in New York City.
“This is spanning three states," Hicks said. "We don’t even know how many people are affected.”
Hicks entered treatment for her medical issues with Cruciani in 2012 at Capital Health in New Jersey, and followed him to Philly continue receiving treatment from him at Drexel.
At first she dismissed his habit of excessive hugging and over-intimacy as a possible cultural difference, she said. But things got worse.
“The day I told him I was pregnant was the day it started,” Hicks said.
Hicks said despite feeling uncomfortable with the doctor touching her body, she told herself that because she had PTSD, from past incidents, “I was being too sensitive, and downplayed it.”
Hicks at one point told her mother she would not go back because she was not comfortable with the doctor; but due to her pregnancy, she was told by another doctor to not change doctors.
Going off her medicine could have caused a seizure. “I was pregnant, I couldn’t risk harm to my baby,” she said. “With the opioid crisis, you don’t want to jump from doctor to doctor, because you’ll be seen as seeking medication.”
Even when she brought her sister to the next appointment, the doctor continued to be “handsy,” she said.
Hicks said she was in treatment with Cruciani at Drexel when the doctor suddenly became unavailable on a “family emergency,” and that she was shocked when she learned that the doctor was accused of sexual misconduct against multiple women.
She said due to her own past experiences, she decided to come forward.
“In the past nothing’s been done,” she said. “Something happened at college and my college told me, ‘Oh it was a misunderstanding,’ and it’s always downplayed,” she said. “This wasn’t some drunk frat boy, this was a well-respected doctor, and the fact that he would do something to so many people for so many years—something needed to be said and done.”
Hicks is one of the women represented by Philly attorney Jeff Fritz, who is investigating possible litigation against the hospitals that employed Cruciani.
Beth Israel, where the doctor worked until 2014, shut down in 2016 and was absorbed into Mount Sinai Hospital, has declined to comment on the case. Capital, where he worked from 2014 to 2015, has said no complaints were received about Cruciani. Drexel, where he worked from 2016 to 2017, said his background check during the hiring process “did not reveal any improper or illegal conduct.”
Cruciani was fired in March from Drexel University after an internal investigation and charged by Philly prosecutors in September.
Some victims, like Hicks, have said they continued seeing the doctor for years despite feeling victimized by the doctor. Allegations ranged from forcible kissing and touching to groping, masturbating in front of them, asking for oral sex and even engaging in sexual intercourse with at least three patients. But the patients, many of whom had complex disorders in which Cruciani specialized, felt trapped, Fritz said.
"Some of these women had been to more than a dozen pain management specialists or doctors for help to get relief from pain," Fritz told Metro. "He comes along, he’s helpful to them, and the only way that they’re going to continue to get care and treatment is by succumbing to what he’s asking for and doing to them."