State regulators waited nearly six years after Timothy Johnson was convicted of battery of a teenage patient to place the chiropractor on professional probation.
Johnson, who allegedly fondled the girl in his office, is now required to have a chaperone with him while treating female patients. But because no one verifies his self-reported activities, he said, he could "take a drunk off the street" to serve in that role. Since June 2009, he has received one visit from a probation official at his practice in Troy, he said.
Johnson said the oversight is so lax he doesn't know if he's still on probation.
"I don't know if I'm on or off," he said. "There's a lack of communication."
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation can be slow to respond to allegations about sex-offending doctors, a Tribune investigation found, and when it does act, it is often through an overburdened probation program that does not have the resources to prevent them from reoffending.
The Tribune review found:
•In the department's probation unit, three officials monitor more than 7,500 state-licensed individuals who committed violations ranging from
to sexual abuse. Officials rarely see the nearly 180 physicians and chiropractors on probation, relying instead on them to attest to their own good behavior.
•In one case, the department moved in 1999 to discipline Richard Parks, a downstate psychiatrist, for allegedly instructing a patient to have sex with him as part of therapy, but it didn't implement the probation until 2007, records show. Parks said the agency blamed the 8-year delay on its records being "such a mess." He said he was never monitored in person by a probation official or anyone else.
•When the department suspended the license of Ricardo Arze in 2007 after the Berwyn doctor was charged with sexual assault of patients, its probation unit was supposed to make sure he did not continue practicing medicine. Two years later, while awaiting trial, the doctor was rearrested and charged with practicing illegally. A former patient said she was the one who informed law enforcement that Arze was still treating people.
The findings raise new questions about the way
responds to sexual misconduct by doctors. The Tribune has uncovered cases in which medical professionals faced little or no sanctions in spite of allegations of serious misconduct and even criminal convictions.
John Goldberg, a former medical prosecutor for the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, said probation can work in substance-abuse cases, in which the offender must undergo regular drug testing, but is not suited for sex-offending medical professionals, especially those who work in private practice.
"I wouldn't feel safe," he said of patients who encounter such doctors.
Renae Lambiotte, who alleged in police reports that Johnson fondled her after she turned to him for treatment of an injured back, called the probation monitoring "reckless."
"I always felt like the system failed me," she said.
Sue Hofer, a spokeswoman for the department, would not comment on the probation system in general or on specific cases. She said in a written response that recommendations for discipline are made on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the allegations and the individual's disciplinary history.
Hofer said the department has a pending request to fill three vacant probation positions.
Brent Adams, secretary of the department, Donald Seasock, director of its division of regulation, and Edward Rose, chair of its medical disciplinary board, declined interview requests.
The department refused to release the probation records for doctors who are being monitored, saying it would interfere with enforcement proceedings. It also has refused to make public the number of allegations against sex offending doctors that did not result in disciplinary action, saying that falls within the category of confidential information gathered during an investigation. That makes it difficult to know how many additional patient complaints may have been dismissed.
The agency's probation system differs sharply from those in states such as
, where regulators monitor dangerous doctors separately from other professionals. At the Medical Board of California, for example, 15 probation officers each manage a caseload of 25 to 50 physicians.
In Illinois, the three monitoring officials police 1,098 professionals of all stripes who have been placed on probation. Nearly 180 physicians and chiropractors are part of the same caseloads as roofers, cosmetologists and locksmiths, among others. The probation officials also are responsible for making sure 6,448 other professionals with suspended or revoked licenses are no longer practicing.
The department said it doesn't track how many doctors are on probation for sex offenses.
Among them is Frederico Aliaga, who pleaded guilty in criminal court to battery of a patient's grandmother.
The Chicago physician allegedly grabbed the woman's
, buttocks and genitals, pressed against her and tried to kiss her while she was in his office with her infant grandson, records show. In March 2009, he pleaded guilty and agreed to perform community service. In exchange, the
state's attorney agreed to dismiss the charge. ("We do that in misdemeanor cases that don't involve these types of allegations," spokeswoman Sally Daly said. "In retrospect was this best way to handle this? Probably not.")
It was nearly one year later when the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, and its medical disciplinary board, struck an agreement with Aliaga that allowed him to continue practicing if he submitted to probation monitoring.
Aliaga had faced such disciplinary action before. Between 1989 and 1991, the department placed him on probation for "unprofessional and unethical conduct while attending to a patient," records show. At that time, he was required to undergo 100 hours of continuing medical education, submit to therapy through the Illinois State Medical Society and report to the department any complaints made against him.
Under his second round of probation, Aliaga was ordered to have a chaperone present when treating female patients and to meet periodically with another physician of his choosing, according to a consent order. The so-called practice monitor must inform the department of evidence of misconduct, but it's mostly up to Aliaga to report patient complaints or problems.
Aliaga's attorney, Ros Saciuk, said he was complying with the terms of his probation, which was ordered for a minimum of three years.
Victims' advocates said state regulators should not rely on an honor system in such cases.
"If they have used their position to prey on vulnerable people, these are not adequate consequences," said Maritza Reyes, coordinator of the sexual assault program at Mujeres Latinas en Accion, a Chicago nonprofit agency that has assisted patients who were abused.
A 2006 state audit sharply criticized the department's handling of all types of medical probation cases. It found the caseloads dangerously large and uncovered evidence of shoddy recordkeeping. In 21 of 25 probation cases examined, files did not exist for the doctor or were lacking required documentation.
A physician placed on probation in November 2003, for example, was required to have a practice monitor review his work and submit quarterly reports on his findings. The department did not realize there was no practice monitor until August 2005 after the doctor violated another term of his probation. As of 2006, the doctor still did not have a practice monitor.
The agency told auditors it did not maintain files for all doctors with suspended or revoked licenses, explaining that a probation official will send a letter requesting that the doctor return his license and ideally check once a year to make sure the individual is not practicing.
The audit concluded that "the department is not adequately monitoring disciplined physicians," and that public safety was being compromised as a result.
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