AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Larry Nassar isn’t the only bad doc at the Tucson pen

AJC finds more than 200 doctors in federal prisons, several at Nassar’s lockup

At Larry Nassar’s new residence – the federal penitentiary in Tucson – he’s not the only inmate with both a medical degree and a horrifying criminal history.

Nassar, the doctor who was recently convicted for sexually abusing young gymnasts, is now at the same prison where Dr. Craig A. Morgenstern is serving time for his sex crimes. Morgenstern, who practiced in Washington state, drugged boys and sexually assaulted them while they were incapacitated.

The Tucson penitentiary’s “medical society” also includes Dr. Randeep Mann, a former pain management doctor in Arkansas, who bombed the car of the state’s medical board president. Dr. Gary Christensen is at the Tucson prison, too. But he won’t be there as long as Nassar, Morgenstern and Mann. Christensen is serving 42 months for tax evasion.

Across the country, more than 205 physicians were serving federal prison sentences at the end of 2017, according to research conducted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

Those incarcerated MDs include a half dozen at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta.

The AJC found that most of the doctors who are serving federal time across the country were convicted in cases involving drug dealing or healthcare fraud. Frequently, the AJC found, it’s the abuse of medical privileges that lands a doctor in prison, whether it’s the improper use of a prescription pad or molesting patients in the guise of conducting an exam.

Morgenstern never became a household name like Nassar did. But his crimes shocked and haunted many who did learn about them.

“Morgenstern is every parent’s nightmare,” Michael C. Ormsby, the former U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of Washington, said in a statement when the doctor was sentenced. “Morgenstern preyed on families by grooming both the parents and children into trusting him so that he could be alone with his victims. Once alone with his victims he would drug them, sexually molest them and produce graphic images and videos of his molestation of the victims.”

Plenty of doctors, including Nassar, get away with their crimes for years before they are discovered, the AJC found in a national investigation of physician sexual misconduct. That’s because doctors have clout and respect and they often chose victims who are vulnerable.

Morgenstern was a Veterans Affairs ER doctor before he was busted. 

Parents trusted Morgenstern because he was a wealthy doctor, and kids were enticed to spend time with him because he came off like a fun uncle who loved sports cars, scary movies and amusement parks, according to coverage of the doctor’s trial. But what he really wanted were the videos of himself sexually assaulting the drugged boys, the case proved.

One of the boys awoke from his drug-induced sleep while the doctor was sexually assaulting him. He escaped from the doctor’s house and the investigation that followed uncovered years of abuse and multiple victims. 

“The trauma associated with Morgenstern’s actions cannot be overstated and the damage caused by Morgenstern to the victims by his sexual exploitation of them and breach of their trust is immeasurable,” Ormsby said at the conclusion of the case. 

Nassar and Morgenstern may both be at the Tucson federal prison because it is one of nine federal prisons where sex offender treatment programs are offered, according to a Federal Bureau of Prisons website. 

Like Nassar, Morgenstern won’t be getting out. He was sentenced to 12 life terms.

Mann, the Arkansas pain clinic doctor, also got a life sentence for the car bombing that severely injured the doctor who headed up the state licensing board that was investigating Mann.

In addition to being convicted on multiple counts related to the use of a “weapon of mass destruction” against Dr. Trent Pierce, Mann was also found guilty on weapons charges. Those included counts related to his owning an unregistered machine gun and having nearly 100 grenades that police discovered as the doctor’s home.

Christensen, by comparison, comes off as a good guy. He was convicted on tax evasion charges and is scheduled to be released in January of 2020. The Arizona medical board apparently isn’t too concerned about his infractions: it still lists him as actively licensed, but on probation. If he takes an ethics class when he gets out, he’ll be able to practice again, according to the disciplinary order.

The AJC’s Lois Norder contributed to this report.

RELATED COVERAGE: Read the AJC’s award-winning 50-state investigation “Doctors & Sex Abuse”

RELATED COVERAGE: Read the AJC’s national investigation “Healers or Dealers?” which exposed physicians across the country who abused their prescription pads. 


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About the Author

Carrie Teegardin is on the investigative team. She is a graduate of Duke University and has won numerous national journalism awards.