Leaning on canes or rolling through the courtroom on motorized wheelchairs, former patients of Dr. Charles Dehaan took to the witness stand Wednesday to recount sexual assaults they claim the Rockford doctor committed during house call visits.
Dehaan faces 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges for Medicare fraud. Federal prosecutors on Wednesday sought to build a case that the 62-year-old doctor deserves prison time because he often submitted bills for visits where he molested his patients.
Along with dry testimony about Medicare billing codes, four women appeared in court to recount assaults they say were committed by Dehaan during visits to their homes or nursing facilities. A fifth woman, who suffers from an anxiety disorder so severe she cannot leave her home, testified on video. After more than eight hours of testimony, the hearing was continued to Oct. 12.
Dehaan, who sat glumly in his seat during the testimony Thursday, has denied assaulting his patients. In a deal with federal prosecutors, Dehaan has pleaded guilty only to two fraud counts that are unrelated to alleged sexual assaults.
In addition to the federal fraud case, Dehaan also faces aggravated sexual assault charges in state courts in Cook and Winnebago counties tied to assaults of four women. The doctor has pleaded not guilty to those charges.
Early in Wednesday’s testimony, U.S. District Judge Frederick Kapala cautioned attorneys not to turn the sentencing hearing into a sexual assault trial. Prosecutors are seeking to recover some of the $22 million Dehaan collected from Medicaid billings from 2009 to 2014, when state regulators pulled Dehaan’s physician license.
“The defendant is not being prosecuted in this court for sexual behavior,” Kapala said. “That’s not what he pleaded guilty to . . . that’s not what he’s being sentenced for.”
In an interview videotaped by investigators earlier this year, a bedridden Des Plaines woman tearfully told investigators that Dehaan fondled her, masturbated in front of her and performed oral sex on her during visits to her home that spanned nearly four years.
Her face framed by the stack of pillows behind her head, the 63-year-old woman said the abuse began after she was confined to bed following surgery for a broken hip in 2009. The woman, who suffered from an anxiety disorder that left her unable to leave the house without suffering crippling panic attacks, said Dehaan began assaulting her behind the closed doors of her bedroom during monthly, and eventually biweekly appointments, often while her boyfriend sat unaware in another room.
“I’d start to cry, and every time I started to cry, [Dehaan] told me to whisper,” said the woman, whose case has prompted sexual assault charges in Cook County.
The woman said Dehaan shut the doors to her room and made lewd remarks, then pulled down his surgical scrubs and masturbated in front of her.
“He told me, ‘That’s my love I feel for you.’ I go, ‘That’s not love.’ And I would cry.”
The woman said she never told anyone about the abuse, which continued into 2013, because Dehaan threatened her and said no one would believe her. But she marked a calendar with notations, such as sad faces or “sicko,” on the dates Dehaan had molested her.
The woman said she told police about the abuse in 2014, only after seeing a news report that Dehaan’s license had been suspended by state regulators based on sexual assault allegations by other patients.
A Chicago Sun-Times review of police reports and lawsuits filed against Dehaan showed that, from 2009 until his license was suspended in 2014, nearly 30 women have either complained to police or sued the doctor, alleging medical malpractice related to sexual advances or assault.
Police in Rockford investigated 10 cases in which patients claimed they had been assaulted by Dehaan prior to 2014, with four reports noting that prosecutors in Winnebago County declined to bring charges against Dehaan. The Winnebago County state’s attorney filed aggravated sexual assault charges against Dehaan in 2015, alleging he assaulted three women, including two women whose cases were first brought to prosecutors by Rockford detectives in 2011.
Under cross-examination by Dehaan’s lawyer on Wednesday, the four women who appeared in court struggled at times to recall details of their assault, and of medical treatment they received from Dehaan.
A 69-year-old woman, who claimed Dehaan groped her during visits after fitting her for a motorized wheelchair, was flustered as Dehaan’s lawyer pointed out the changing versions of her allegations in statements she gave to Rockford police, a detective and FBI investigators.
Dehaan’s attorney, Debra Schafer, asked the woman why she gave a different accounting of the dates of the assaults or added details in each interview.
“I don’t know. I’m saying it now, anyway. Because it all comes back. Yes it does,” the woman said, anxiously shuffling a copy of a written statement she gave to Rockford police in 2011.
“The fact is, you can’t keep your story straight because you made it all up,” Schafer said.
Schafer also pointed to numerous occasions where Dehaan had ordered medical tests and provided treatment to the women testifying against him. One patient, a mentally disabled Rockford woman, testified she suffered from breast cancer that went undiagnosed because Dehaan was preoccupied with making sexual advances on her. But Schafer noted that Dehaan had ordered X-rays for the woman, but was unable to provide follow-up treatment because his doctor’s license was suspended.
James Jones, an investigator from the state Department of Professional Regulation, said he interviewed Dehaan in 2013 during an investigation of claims that Dehaan had molested his patients; prescribed medications to people he hadn’t evaluated; and committed billing violations.
Jones said a former employee of Dehaan’s home health care company said she had fielded complaints about Dehaan from patients who claimed he had made inappropriate remarks or sexual advances, and that he repeatedly overcharged Medicare for services or submitted bills for patients he hadn’t treated.
Jones said he asked Dehaan why numerous patients, most of them strangers to each other, would make allegations about the doctor that repeated similar details. Dehaan, Jones said, dismissed the allegations, noting his patients often suffered from dementia or other mental illness.
“He said he didn’t know why they would make those allegations,” Jones said.