Prominent Neurologist Convicted of Raping Patients Kills Himself in Lockup

·4 min read
Colleen Long/AP
Colleen Long/AP

A Manhattan neurologist convicted last month of raping and sexually abusing patients under his care died by suicide early Monday in a Rikers Island lockup.

Dr. Ricardo Cruciani, 68, was found guilty on July 29 of forcing at least half a dozen women into sex acts by threatening, among other things, to withhold highly addictive painkillers he had prescribed.

Cruciani’s lawyer, Frederick Sosinski, confirmed his client’s death in an email to The Daily Beast.

“Ricardo’s attorneys and family are shocked and saddened beyond belief to have learned of his violent death while in city custody this morning,” Sosinski said.

A New York City Fire Department spokesman told The Daily Beast that emergency medical crews responded to Rikers shortly before 6 a.m. after receiving a report of an unconscious inmate. Medics “made resuscitation efforts,” but were unsuccessful, according to the spokesman, who said he could not identify the patient by name due to HIPAA regulations.

Cruciani was found unresponsive with a sheet around his neck in a shower at the island’s Eric M. Taylor Center, according to sources cited by the New York Post and the New York Daily News.

Terrie Phoenix, a victim who testified in the criminal case against Cruciani, told The Daily Beast in a statement provided by attorney Jeff Fritz, “I take comfort knowing he now faces another judge.”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Rikers Island.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Chip East/Reuters</div>

Rikers Island.

Chip East/Reuters

Another victim, Hillary Tullin, said in an email, “It is is a sad day for all of his victims who will never get to have finality and never have the chance to address the defendant to tell him directly how his crimes greatly impacted their lives. I feel more fortunate than some because I had the opportunity to testify before a jury and was validated by their guilty verdict... His decision today was in no way a sign of remorse or guilt but purely an act of self-preservation. He simply could not stand facing the rest of his life behind bars.”

Fritz said his firm represents 30 women who were victimized by Cruciani.

“Their reactions are similar,” he told The Daily Beast, “and they feel cheated of justice.”

Cruciani “over-prescribed high doses of pain medications to the point of addiction, which ensured his patients could not leave his care despite the abuse,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement after his conviction. “When patients sought outside care, some doctors refused to see them because of the dangerously high doses they were prescribed. The survivors were left with opioid addictions, sexual trauma, and without proper medical care for their extremely rare and painful diseases.”

He groomed his victims by developing personal relationships with them, “including discussing his own family matters and personal issues,” according to Bragg, who said Cruciani “initiated physical contact by stroking his patients’ hair, complimenting their appearance and giving them uncomfortably tight hugs.”

Cruciani worked at New York City’s Beth Israel Medical Center and the Capital Institute for Neurosciences in Hopewell Township, N.J. He was also chair of the neurology department at Drexel University in Philadelphia. In a federal case against Cruciani that was still pending at the time of his death, prosecutors laid out a raft of highly disturbing allegations that echoed the charges he faced in New York State.

After developing a rapport with a victim, Cruciani “became increasingly abusive over time,” states an indictment filed last year in Manhattan federal court. He “inserted his tongue into certain victims’ mouths,” “conducted purported breast examinations and vaginal examinations of certain victims even though he was not a practicing obstetrician or gynecologist,” “masturbated in the presence of certain victims,” and “had vaginal sexual intercourse with certain victims,” the filing says, adding, “None of the above sex acts had a legitimate medical purpose.”

“We entrust doctors to respect our bodies and health when we go to them for help, yet Dr. Cruciani utterly violated that duty,” Bragg said.

The Post reported that an officer assigned to keep watch over Cruciani had left their post shortly before he hung himself. However, Sosinski claims that corrections officials hadn’t been supervising him at all.

“At our request—and for quite understandable reasons—at the moment of his remand into custody on July 29, the Court directed that NYC Corrections place Ricardo in protective custody and under suicide watch,” he said in the email. “Neither of these conditions were, to our knowledge, ever complied with. Had they been, we would not be having this terrible discussion. We are calling for an immediate and objective investigation into the actual circumstances of Ricardo’s death, including, most fundamentally, why in the world Corrections failed to follow the Court’s orders regarding placement of Ricardo.”

Cruciani’s is the 12th death and second suicide in a New York City jail so far this year, according to The New York Times. Last year, there were 16 deaths and two suicides in the city’s detention system.

In 2019, city lawmakers passed a measure to shutter Rikers by 2026, planning to replace it with four smaller jails throughout the city. But with a growing inmate population, that timeline is becoming increasingly doubtful.

Cruciani was set to be sentenced on Sept. 14.

With additional reporting by Ellie Houghtaling

If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741

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