Employees give conflicting statements, and Health Department charges doctor
George Stowe, the LPN, and Vincent Curcio, the bail bondsman, moved forward with their plans to open a methadone clinic. On April 2, 2003, they submitted their letter of intent to the Connecticut Office of Health Care Access. Fresh Start Substance Services, LLC, the form indicated, was a for-profit venture.
The project description stated, in part, the following:
- We are proposing to establish a Methadone Maintenance and Substance Services facility. The DPH license we are seeking is that of a Substance Abuse and Dependence Facility.
- There are existing providers in the geographic area. However, the target population of drug users seeking treatment projects the perception that additional treatment facilities are necessary and would be beneficial to serve the needs of these individuals.
- Clients and insurance providers are the payers of these services.
George Stowe responded to a subpoena from the Connecticut Department of Public Health concerning the matter of Barry Lichtenthal on April 8, 2003, according to court documents. Two days later—the same day that Lichtenthal was arrested—Stowe signed a sworn deposition. It stated, in part:
- I began employment at Noah’s Ark in August of 2002. My hours were Monday thru Friday from 6:45 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. I work some weekends on request, usually 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
- During my employment, I observed numerous instances where Michael Taylor introduced himself to patients and others as a doctor.
- Dr. Leedom was rarely present during the medication administration hours. Dr. Taylor was usually at the facility during the medication administration hours, and that is when I observed him meeting with patients.
- I observed many instances where Dr. Taylor would interview potential patients and current patients. He prescribed medication and changed individual’s medication.
- Dr. Taylor would regularly give me verbal orders regarding the medication requirements. Dr. Taylor would also interview new patients, taking confidential information that a physician would request to evaluate the patient’s needs. Based on this, he would determine the medication that would be delivered to the patient in the program.
- Between August 2002 and February 2003, I observed, on numerous occasions, Dr. Taylor personally dispensed medications from the medication window to patients enrolled in the program. I also observed him dispense medication to new patients that had not yet been seen by Dr. Leedom.
- On many occasions I observed Dr. Taylor in possession of what appeared to be a black, semi-automatic handgun. He would take this out of his desk, and place it on top of the desk during medication administration hours. Sometimes he would approach people with it, stating, “this is how I control things, or this is how I take care of business.”
- I observed Dr. Taylor taking young female patients into the exam room or his office. In most cases, he would close the door. Many times in open areas, he would make lewd, sexual comments to both his staff and the patients.
- Within the last several weeks, Dr. Leedom told me that Dr. Michael Taylor did not exist, and that her husband’s name was Barry Lichtenthal and that he was not a physician. She stated that he took this identity and roll [sic] to add structure to Noah’s Ark. She further stated she knew this was wrong, and that he was not supposed to do the things that he did. She maintained that at all times she was aware of his actions and that she felt she accepted responsibility for the medication orders he may have given. She further stated that he now was the administrator of the program and all medication orders from this point would come only from her. Dr. Michael Taylor was not associated with Noah’s Ark from this point forward, and that I should refer to him as Barry Lichtenthal.
- During the course of my employment at Noah’s Arc, [sic] Dr. Leedom knew that I believed that Michael Taylor aka Barry Lichtenthal was a doctor. Dr. Leedom also knew that I was taking medication orders from Michael Taylor aka Barry Lichtenthal.
Leedom disputes Stowe’s testimony. She also says Stowe never advised her that he was subpoenaed, and did not tell her what transpired during the interview.
Social worker subpoenaed
Claire Zang was also subpoenaed. Although Zang didn’t know the nature of the investigation, she advised Leedom about the subpoena. When she got to Hartford, the capital of Connecticut, Zang learned the state had received complaints that Lichtenthal was sexually molesting patients.
Having nothing to hide, Zang told the investigators everything she knew. She did see Lichtenthal’s gun. She had heard rumors that Lichtenthal was harassing females, but didn’t know if they were true. Zang thought Lichtenthal was a doctor, because that’s what his cousin, Robert Lichtenthal, the president of Noah’s Ark, told her, but she never saw Leedom present her husband as a doctor, and she never saw him practice medicine. Lichtenthal handled the money, including billing and payroll, for Noah’s Ark. If Lichtenthal was examining patients or giving out medicine, Zang was not aware of it, and she believed Dr. Leedom was not aware of it either.
Apparently, this was not what the investigators wanted to hear. They asked Zang if she was afraid for her life while working at Noah’s Ark. She replied that no, she was not afraid for her life. Then the session became hostile. Here’s how Zang described what happened:
It seemed to me that the Department of Public Health was not seeking the truth or looking to collect facts in their case against Barry Lichtethal and Dr. Leedom. They were seeking information that would back up their theory by using such techniques as “good cop/bad cop.” The representatives of the Department were upset when I did not provide them with the information they wanted to hear. An investigator from the Department of Health became (or pretended to become) very angry, telling me, “What we want to hear from you is that you were afraid for your life”¦” He told me that this was why I “did nothing when I knew” that the “lives” of young women were being “ruined” at Noah’s Ark by Barry Lichtenthal. The representatives of the Department also theorized that I “failed to report” Barry Lichtenthal’s schemes because Dr. Leedom was in on them, and I was such “good friends” with her. They seemed to doubt me when I explained to them that although I liked Liane and got along well with her, I had never socialized with her outside of a work related situation and never even had a personal phone conversation with her. Over a period of approximately one month, representatives of the Department tried to coerce me into changing my “story,” saying they could not “deny or confirm” whether or not my Social Work license was in jeopardy.
Zang says that when she returned to Noah’s Ark, she informed Leedom and Lichtenthal together about the state’s allegations. Leedom, Zang says, was astounded, and thought the allegations were preposterous. Lichtenthal did not react.
Zang was interviewed again the day that the state shut down Noah’s Ark. “I was saying it’s a really good program, and they were like, oh, yeah, right,” Zang says. “But it was. Dr. Leedom was treating people, and people were getting well, getting better. It was a really good program in a lot of ways—aside from Barry Lichtenthal.”
Charges against Leedom
On the day that Noah’s Ark was shut down, April 11, 2003, the Connecticut Public Health Department filed an investigative report and statement of charges against Dr. Liane Leedom.
The investigative report was prepared by Diane L. Cybulski, RN, and John Overstreet, special investigator. The report recounted the two complaints received by the department about Lichtenthal sexually molesting female patients, three phone calls made to Noah’s Ark asking for Dr. Michael Taylor, the unannounced visit made by the investigators to Noah’s Ark on March 25, and the visit made to Noah’s Ark by the two nurses on March 13. The statement of George Stowe was heavily quoted. Information provided by Claire Zang that supported Dr. Leedom was disregarded.
The statement of charges included the following. (“Leedom” has been substituted for the word “respondent” that appears in the original.)
- From approximately August 2002 through March 2003, Leedom consistently aided and abetted her husband (Barry Lichtenthal, aka Michael Taylor) in the unlicensed practice of medicine while at the facility. Leedom’s husband is not licensed by the department in any capacity.
- During the pertinent time period, Leedom misled facility patients and staff by presenting her husband as a licensed physician (i.e., “Dr. Michael Taylor”) when, in fact, he was not.
- Leedom allowed her husband to routinely examine and treat numerous facility patients as “Dr. Michael Taylor.” Leedom permitted her husband to administer methadone to—and orally issue physician orders regarding methadone dosages for—facility patients. Leedom also allowed her husband to interview facility patients and obtain confidential medical information so that he could then determine their course of treatment.
- On multiple occasions, Leedom’s husband performed private “physical examinations” on several of the facility’s female patients.
- During one “examination,” Leedom’s husband performed an ungloved internal “pelvic examination” on a female patient of the facility. During the course of another “examination,” Leedom’s husband administered a “sexuality test” on a female patient involving, in part, undressing the patient and touching the patient’s sexual organs.
- Despite being apprised of patient allegations regarding her husband’s alleged sexual misconduct during the course of his “examinations,” Leedom continued to permit her husband to treat patients at the facility as “Dr. Michael Taylor.”
Leedom says she never saw the affidavit provided by George Stowe or the Department of Health’s statement of charges and would have disputed their accuracy. But no one asked her to tell her side of the story—no criminal prosecutor, no investigator from the department of health, not even a reporter.
“I was never questioned by anyone,” Leedom says. “No one asked me what happened, ever.”
Not fighting charges
Leedom’s husband was arrested. Her clinic was shut down. The state suspended her medical license—and she didn’t know what would happen next. All Leedom could think about were her two young daughters and six-month-old baby. She had no family nearby—her parents were on the other side of the country in California. What if she was never able to work again? What if she was criminally prosecuted and went to jail? Leedom felt afraid and completely lost.
“I was terrified,” Leedom says. “I didn’t know what would happen to my kids.”
An old friend found an attorney for her. As they talked about her problems, Leedom’s biggest concern was that she needed to be available to care for her children. Whatever was going to happen, it would be best if it were over quickly.
“The decision was made that we weren’t going to fight,” Leedom says. “My attorney’s job was to protect my children.”