I-Team: State Law Could Allow Therapist Sex Assaults to Go Unreported

A state office is not required to forward patient complaints about therapists

By Chris Glorioso and Tom Burke
|  Thursday, May 17, 2012  |  Updated 8:21 AM EDT
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The state authority charged with overseeing licensed psychotherapists in New York is not required to forward complaints of statutory rape to law enforcement, the News 4 I-Team has learned. Chris Glorioso reports.

The state authority charged with overseeing licensed psychotherapists in New York is not required to forward complaints of statutory rape to law enforcement, the News 4 I-Team has learned. Chris Glorioso reports.

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The state authority charged with overseeing licensed psychotherapists in New York is not required to forward complaints of statutory rape to law enforcement, the News 4 I-Team has learned.

A Long Island woman who accused her psychotherapist of rape last year believes that could leave rapists free to prey on patients.

“The agencies that were put in place to help me, failed me, heinously,” Denise Weisbrod told the I-Team.

Under New York law it is third-degree, or statutory, rape when a mental health provider engages in a sexual relationship with a patient undergoing therapy, regardless of age.

“The patient is unable to consent and that’s what the criminal statute here in New York recognizes,” said Weisbrod’s lawyer, Audrey Bedolis. “Consent isn’t there because emotions have been manipulated by the therapist.”

In Nassau County recently, psychiatrist Marshall Hubsher was accused of manipulating a patient into having sex with him in his office. Hubsher has pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual misconduct and statutory rape.

“I was infuriated because it mirrored my case, almost exactly,” said Weisbrod.

One difference: Hubsher is a psychiatrist – a medical doctor whose license to practice is overseen by the state Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC), a division of the Health Department.

Weisbrod’s counselor was not a doctor, but a state-licensed clinical social worker or psychotherapist whose license was overseen by the state Office of Professional Discipline (OPD), a division of the Education Department.

According to state law, OPMC is required to report to law enforcement any cases where a psychiatrist is in a sexual relationship with a patient undergoing therapy.

OPD has no such requirement for psychotherapists or licensed clinical social workers.

“I don’t think there’s a person out there that’s not going to be outraged by that,” said Kathleen Rice, Nassau County district attorney. “Whether you look at a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist, they’re in that very intimate relationship where someone is very vulnerable and coming to them for help.”

Rice’s office is prosecuting the case against Hubsher.

In neighboring Suffolk County, Weisbrod’s counselor, Scott Burzon, was not charged with the crime. He committed suicide in March 2012, according to sources.

Burzon had both a private practice and was an administrator of the Brentwood Mental Health Clinic – a facility run by Suffolk County Department of Health Services.

“I went to Scott Burzon because I was raped when I was younger and I realized I needed to deal with those issues,” said Weisbrod.

Over four years, Weisbrod said she revealed painful details about once being date-raped and told Burzon she had issues trusting men.

As part of her therapy, Burzon suggested the two have sex in his office as a way to help her trust men again, Weisbrod said.

“I would do anything at that point that I could to get better,” said Weisbrod. “I wanted to get better so I believed him because everything he said for four years seemed to be trustworthy, that he was going to help me.”

While it all seemed consensual, it was illegal.

According to Weisbrod, she was on the verge of a breakdown and confided in a friend who was a registered nurse. She also began seeing a new therapist, and Weisbrod said she was quickly convinced to file a complaint against Burzon. She reported him to OPD in August 2011.

She said she first heard nothing from a state investigator. She called the office again in October and asked about the case and was told another person had also come forward with similar accusations.

“He was called in to be interviewed and admitted to both cases,” said Weisbrod.

An OPD spokesman did not dispute Weisbrod’s story, but explained that confidentiality laws prevent the agency from releasing any details.

Rice believes the confidentiality rules at OPD are the heart of the issue.

“You have to have better communication between law enforcement and the medical community so we can root out the bad people,” she said.

She believes it should be mandatory for OPD to report any and all complaints of therapists having sex with patients -- similar to OPMC’s mandate for psychiatrists.

For seven months following Weisbrod’s complaint, Burzon still had his license and could see clients.

Ultimately, Weisbrod did complain directly to the Suffolk County District Attorney's office. In a statement to the I-team, a representative from the DA's office said they declined to prosecute due to a lack of evidence.

In March 2012, Burzon was found dead in a hotel room near MacArthur Airport.

Weisbrod has filed a lawsuit against the estate of Burzon, who was married. His wife did not return calls, nor did the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.

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