Barry Lichtenthal helps his wife open her dream clinic, then sexually molests her patients
Barry Lichtenthal was at his desk in the reception area of the Noah’s Ark Foundation, a substance abuse detoxification clinic in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on April 10, 2003, when the police showed up to arrest him. Lichtenthal was a founder and administrator of the clinic. He was accused of sexually molesting a young female patient and practicing medicine without a license.
Lichtenthal’s wife, Dr. Liane Leedom, a psychiatrist, was the clinic’s medical director. As the police arrived around 4 p.m., she was in her office, in the rear of the medical suite, with a patient. The receptionist buzzed her. There was an emergency.
Leedom walked out to the reception area and watched, in shock, as the police read her husband his rights and handcuffed him.
A day or two earlier, representatives of the Connecticut Department of Public Health had paid an unannounced call on Noah’s Ark. At that time they informed Leedom about the allegations against her husband. They wanted to see the examination rooms, and asked if the clinic performed gynecological examinations. The clinic did not, but according to the woman who made the complaint, Lichtenthal, who called himself “Dr. Michael Taylor,” did.
Since the Health Department visit, Leedom had been in a state of panic, filled with a sense of impending doom. Not knowing what was going to happen, she pushed her panic aside and did what she did best. She took care of her patients.
But with the police at Noah’s Ark, Leedom broke down. Crying, she walked with her husband as he was led to the squad car. The officers put Lichtenthal in the back seat and got into the front seat. Leedom stood on the sidewalk, still crying, and watched as the police car drove away.
At that point, Leedom did not comprehend the extent of her husband’s betrayal.
As a detoxification program, the goal of Noah’s Ark was to help substance abusers break free of their addictions. In April of 2003, Noah’s Ark was treating between 75 and 100 patients. Although some were alcoholics, most were addicted to opioids, like heroin. These patients were treated with methadone, a synthetic opiod, on a tapering schedule—dosages were slowly reduced until the abusers were off the drug.
Patients had to come into Noah’s Ark for their methadone every day—between 6:45 a.m. and 9 a.m., or between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. George Stowe, a licensed practical nurse and Noah’s Ark employee, was assigned to “pass meds” on the morning shift.
After Lichtenthal was arrested, Leedom realized it was probably the end of the clinic. She called Stowe, or asked a staff person to call Stowe-she can’t remember which. “Don’t bother coming in tomorrow,” Leedom told him. “I think the clinic is going to be closed down.” Leedom would pass the meds herself.
That evening, as she went home to care for her two young daughters and infant son, her mind was racing. She called a colleague who ran the New Era Rehabilitation Center, another local substance abuse treatment facility. The call confirmed her fears. New Era had already been instructed by state officials to treat her patients. Noah’s Ark was finished.
Distraught, Leedom did not sleep at all that night.
At 6:45 a.m. on Friday, April 11, 2003, Leedom was at the medication window of Noah’s Ark. As she gave the patients their pills, she told them her husband had been arrested and Noah’s Ark was closing.
Many of the patients were upset. They liked Dr. Leedom, sensing that she truly cared about them. Noah’s Ark accepted all patients, even those with no insurance or low-paying insurance like Medicaid. Dr. Leedom met with each patient as he or she started treatment. She wrote the medication orders. She assigned each patient to counseling with the clinic’s social worker or drug counselor. And as busy as Leedom was, she still found time to call anyone who didn’t come in for their meds, asking, “Where were you today? Are you all right?”
Leedom’s patients were overcoming their addictions. They were getting well.
At 11 a.m. that Friday, a SWAT team came through the door—officers from the Bridgeport police, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the Connecticut Department of Public Health. “Nobody move. Put your hands up,” someone shouted.
Everyone in the office froze. Patients were ordered to leave. Employees were ordered to stay.
Each employee was individually interviewed—except for Dr. Leedom. No police officer or investigator asked her any questions. But a female cop was assigned to watch her at all times.
The SWAT team took all the medication on the premises, counted it and destroyed it—including thousands of dollars worth of methadone. They searched the entire office and confiscated all of the clinic’s records, telephone logs and computers. Leedom asked for a full accounting of the material they took—she knew the records would be important for her defense. The police refused, and she never saw her documents again. More police officers were searching her home—no one ever told her what was taken from there, either.
For six hours, the raid continued. Leedom, a virtual prisoner, paced in her office—supervised by the female cop. She felt physically ill.
Finally, the raid was over. Leedom left the Merritt Medical Center, where her clinic was located, by the back door—avoiding reporters and camera crews staked out in the front of the building.
That night, Leedom and her children spent the night in a hotel, where they lounged around watching movies. They ordered dinner from room service. The woman who delivered their meals had heard the news about the sex charges against Lichtenthal—it was all over the radio and TV—and realized who her guests were. She gave Leedom a hug. “We support you,” she said.
News coverage of assault charges
While Noah’s Ark was being searched, Barry Lichtenthal appeared in court. He was charged with second-degree sexual assault, fourth-degree sexual assault and practicing medicine without a license. Bail was set at $1.75 million.
The Connecticut Post had a field day with the story. Its report on April 12, 2003, was headlined Caution: Fake doc can cause side effects. According to the newspaper, patients claimed that Lichenthal [sic] “waved a gun at them and as they waited naked for treatment conducted bizarre experiments on their bodies.”
Quoting “sources close to the investigation,” the Connecticut Post wrote, “one woman claimed Lichenthal [sic] told her and another women [sic] to come into a room and take their clothes off. He then began attaching wires to their bodies, telling them he had to determine whether they were lesbians before he could give them methadone.”
The sensational headlines and quotes from unnamed sources continued for months— Sex abuse claims start investigation of clinic on April 12. Public defender appointed for accused fake doctor on April 30. More phony doc charges on July 25. Trumbull ‘doctor’ faces new Medicaid fraud counts on December 10. Psychiatrist nabbed on husband’s claimed abuses on January 8, 2004.
How had this happened?