A Mesa cardiologist accused of fondling at least 18 female patients during medical exams or surgery was sentenced Thursday to nearly the maximum sentence available under a plea agreement.
Dr. Richard Lewis was sentenced to one year in jail and 12 years of probation. He pled guilty last month to 18 felony counts of aggravated assault. He was originally charged with 61 counts including sexual abuse and sexual assault.
Lewis was arrested by Mesa police in June 2009 over sexual abuse claims made by two patients. Other alleged victims came forward after the case became public.
Several of his former patients spoke at the sentencing, describing how he touched and squeezed their breasts and crotch, and the traumatic effect it had on them. One woman said Lewis was squeezing her breasts when she woke up from anesthesia.
At the sentencing hearing, Lewis' attorney explained to the judge that Lewis was just doing his job. A proper cardiac exam, said attorney Barry Mitchell, is "very intrusive," involving "touching breast tissue and the groin area."
Mitchell said many cardiologists have abandoned those intrusive methods in favor of using instruments, but that type of exam is not as effective. Lewis continued to use the old methods.
His downfall, according to Mitchell, was that Lewis was arrogant, lacked social skills, and had difficulty understanding "proper boundaries" with patients. As a result, he failed to inform his patients that the exam would be uncomfortable and would involve touching intimate body parts. One victim at the sentencing hearing said when she complained to Lewis, he just laughed and continued the exam. Therefore, Lewis' actions were seen by many patients as sexual abuse.
When Lewis' turn to speak came, he apologized to the victims and their families, and said "This sort of arrogance was unacceptable and unforgivable."
As part of the plea agreement, the 57-year-old Lewis will surrender his medical license and cannot practice medicine again. He won't have to register as a sex offender since he was not convicted of any sex-related crimes.