Crime and Courts

I-Team: Queens doctor accused of drugging women and video recording rapes

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A Queens gastroenterologist has been jailed on charges he used “an unknown liquid” to drug a woman in his home and rape her, while secretly video recording the assaults. Now, a former patient of Dr. Zhi Alan Cheng says she was also raped on video, after Cheng allegedly drugged her inside an exam room at New York Presbyterian Hospital Queens.

“I’m scared, I no longer want to go to hospitals,” said the former patient who asked to remain anonymous. “I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through this.”

But the former patient’s attorney, Nicholas Liakas, said he fears the brazen nature of Dr. Cheng’s alleged sex assaults suggest he may have victimized other patients.

“For someone to rise to this level where you are drugging and raping a person, that doesn’t happen overnight,” Liakas said. “You have essentially a predator in a white coat.”

In Dec. 2022, the Queens district attorney's office secured a first-degree rape indictment alleging Dr. Cheng used a K-N95 mask filled with cotton balls that had been soaked in that unknown liquid to render a female victim unconscious in his apartment. When she woke up, she allegedly found the video of her own sexual assault. Cheng is currently awaiting trial, held without bond on Rikers Island.

James Kousouros, the defense attorney representing Dr. Cheng, said the physician denies the criminal rape charges. With respect to the rape allegation from the doctor's former patient, Kousouros stressed the hospital decided not to impose discipline.

"Our understanding is the matter was investigated by the facility and no action was taken," Kousouros said. "Our client will defend these allegations should they be formally charged."

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But the former patient, herself, says the hospital didn’t do enough to investigate when she initially raised concerns about being drugged.

In an exclusive interview with the NBC New York I-Team and Telemundo Investiga, she said she was assaulted in June 2021 when Dr. Cheng allegedly entered her hospital room the day before she was scheduled to have her gall bladder removed.  The patient, then 19 years old, said Dr. Cheng unexpectedly injected her with a substance that made her fall asleep and “when she woke up [the] doctor was no longer in [the] room” but she was experiencing “extreme pain to [her] lower abdomen.”

Liakas said, at the time, both his client and her mother expressed concern the teenager might have been sexually assaulted while she was unconscious. Though her hospital records do not include an explicit accusation of rape, they do show medical staff initially took that possibility seriously. 

The records show hospital personnel checked surveillance video, key card access near the patient’s exam room and assigned a team of social workers who specialize in sexual abuse concerns to examine the young woman. According to the medical file, the 19-year-old patient told the social workers “she doesn’t remember what happened to her” during the time she was knocked out.   

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After she woke up, the former patient says she clearly pointed out Dr. Cheng during an impromptu “line-up” of male medical personnel, as the staff tried to figure out who injected her.

“They put in front of me like four doctors and they said to identify who it is,” she said.

Despite that, her lawyer says the hospital appears to have allowed the investigation to fizzle without taking action against Dr. Cheng. 

“That investigation, if you want to call it, hit a dead end,” said Liakas, who has filed a civil lawsuit on his client’s behalf.

He alleged New York-Presbyterian was aware the patient had been sexually assaulted, "but conspired to cover up her assault by failing to tell her what had happened, failing to test or treat her for the illegal and dangerous injection of drugs she had been given, [and] refusing to call the police."

“That investigation, if you want to call it, hit a dead end,” said Liakas, who has filed a civil lawsuit on Jane’s behalf, alleging New York Presbyterian was aware the patient had been sexually assaulted, “but conspired to cover up her assault by failing to tell her what had happened, failing to test or treat her for the illegal and dangerous injection of drugs she had been given, [and] refusing to call the police.”

New York-Presbyterian declined to answer specific questions about the alleged rape, but did send a written statement expressing the hospital’s outrage at Dr. Cheng’s behavior.

“The crimes committed by this individual are heinous, despicable, and a fundamental betrayal of our mission and our patients’ trust. We are appalled and deeply saddened by what these victims and their families have endured,” the statement read.

The hospital said Dr. Cheng was fired six months ago, after New York-Presbyterian learned of the criminal rape indictment. 

“In December 2022, as soon as the District Attorney made us aware of allegations of sexual abuse against this individual, he was immediately placed off duty, banned from hospital property, and terminated," the hospital said. "We have been fully cooperating with the Queens District Attorney’s office, the NYPD, and the NYS Department of Health.”

But the hospital statement did not explain why Dr. Cheng was allowed to continue treating patients after staff members investigated teenage patient’s complaint about being drugged in June 2021.

New York-Presbyterian said an exhaustive review of the matter has been conducted, including additional training for all employees. It’s not clear whether the hospital reported Dr. Cheng to regulators at the New York State Department of Health. 

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According to records posted by New York’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct, Dr. Cheng was suspended from practicing medicine on April 7, 2023. That’s four months after Cheng was indicted on criminal rape charges and nearly two years after the patient at New York-Presbyterian Queens first told medical staff she’d been mysteriously drugged and woke up with pain to her lower abdomen.

New York State law requires physicians, nurses, and social workers to report when they have reasonable cause to suspect a person under 18 has been abused by someone responsible for that child’s care.

In this case, even though the medical care was being provided in a pediatric unit, the patient was a 19-year-old. Her medical record says she declined a gynecological exam and had no evidence of trauma or injury to her body.

The patient says she may have never known she had been raped, were it not for the criminal investigation into Dr. Cheng a year later. In the process of searching the physician’s phone for records associated with the alleged drugging and rape in his apartment, investigators reportedly found a video from the prior year, showing the rape inside New York-Presbyterian Hospital Queens. A prosecutor in the Queens district attorney’s office called the former patient’s mother to share the awful news, her lawyer said.

“Without the call they did to my mom, I would have never known,” the former patient said. “They have a video, but I don’t want to see it.”

A spokesperson for the Queens District Attorney’s Office declined comment on the criminal case against Dr. Cheng or on whether prosecutors expect to file additional rape charges related to the former patient who was allegedly drugged at New York-Presbyterian Queens.

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