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Former gynecologist Robert Hadden sentenced to 20 years in prison for sexual abuse of patients

A former gynecologist accused in lawsuits of sexually abusing more than 200 patients over the course of decades was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in prison on federal charges related to four women.

Judge Richard Berman described the behavior of Robert Hadden, the convicted former Columbia University doctor, as "lewd, serious, out of control, depraved, extraordinary," and the case as "horrific" and "like no other." Berman also ordered the 66-year-old Hadden to face a lifetime of supervision after his release. 

Hadden was indicted on charges related to cases in which patients traveled between states for their appointments with him and were sexually abused during what was supposed to be gynecological examinations. Prosecutors alleged in the 2020 indictment that Hadden also assaulted "dozens of female patients, including multiple minors" between 1993 and 2012. 

During his trial, in addition to the four victims who traveled to New York City for appointments from as far away as Nevada, jurors heard from another five women who said they were abused by Hadden, as well as a nurse and former medical assistant who said they witnessed more assaults.

In total, Berman said Monday, the trial included "credible" evidence relating to 40 victims. He also noted that a U.S. probation office pre-sentence report estimated the total number of potential victims as "at least approximately 245."

Robert Hadden in court in 2016
Robert Hadden is seen in a New York courtroom in this 2016 file photo. Alec Tabak/New York Daily News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Berman cited Hadden's "prolific" history of abuse, which he described as likely dating back to the 1980s, and the vulnerability of his patients — most of whom were pregnant, some of whom experiencing serious medical issues — in recommending significantly more incarceration than a roughly five-year sentence the sentencing guidelines suggested.

Hadden, wearing a beige jail uniform, sat leaning forward with his face resting in his palm for much of the lengthy sentencing hearing. An overflow audience that included many of his former patients — some moved to tears as Berman recounted Hadden's abuses — watched in two separate courtrooms.  

Prosecutors had asked for 25 years in court filings, while defense attorneys argued for three years.

During the trial, jurors heard from women who had been Hadden's patients for years. They described trusting him as he helped them navigate pregnancy complications and other issues, but also the moments when that trust was irrevocably broken.

Several said Hadden would often seem as if he was concluding exams, only to turn around just after a nurse had left the room, saying he needed to check something else.

It was in these moments, the former patients said, that he would insert his tongue or ungloved fingers into their vaginas, or fondle their breasts for several minutes under the guise of performing an exam.

One recalled the fear she felt just after a nurse left the room when Hadden said, "one minute, stay there." She feared he was examining a medical issue, and said she thought, "Oh my, something must be wrong."

"I listened, I trusted him. I trusted him," she said, before describing the doctor removing his gloves and assaulting her with his hands and tongue. 

"All I could think was 'How the hell do I get out of here? I have to get out of here," she said.

Anthony DiPietro, an attorney who represented dozens of Hadden's former patients in lawsuits against Columbia University, lauded the survivors for coming forward. 

"You've literally done for that institution something that they have proven over, and over again, that they were incapable of doing themselves: get rid of this serial sexual predator," DiPietro said. 

"While I hope that today marks the end of a chapter for all of you who been exposed to this predator—if it hasn't happened already—I hope that today can be used to start the transition from surviving, to healing, and growth." 

Defense attorneys did not claim Hadden was innocent of assaulting the women, saying during opening statements that "the harm they suffered is real and in some cases very raw." Instead, Hadden's attorneys contested that prosecutors could prove that Hadden lured the women across state lines.

Hadden's attorney, Deirdre von Dornum, argued that the women at the center of the case chose to make appointments with Hadden.

"Cancel him, condemn him, do not convict him of a crime he did not commit," she said during the January trial.

On Monday, she objected to the length of the sentence Berman indicated, saying the judge was relying on just two witness accounts in totaling the dozens of victims he factored into his decision. 

Hadden previously entered a guilty plea in 2016 to two New York State charges of criminal sex act in the third degree and forcible touching. More than 200 of his former patients have settled lawsuits against Columbia University, reaching agreements totalling more than $230 million. The accusations against him were central to a campaign for the New York Adult Survivors Act, which in November opened a one-year window for survivors of sexual abuse to file lawsuits that would otherwise be barred by statutes of limitations.

In a statement to CBS News, a spokesperson for Columbia University's Irving Medical Center said the hospital "is profoundly sorry for the pain that Robert Hadden's patients suffered and his exploitation of their trust." 

"The prosecution of Hadden that led to his conviction of federal crimes showed how he purposely worked to evade our oversight and engineer situations to abuse his patients," the spokesperson said. "We commend all the women who have come forward, especially those who shared their experiences so publicly during these judicial proceedings."

Hadden has denied all allegations and charges beyond the two for which he entered the 2016 guilty plea. That deal included no jail time and allowed Hadden to be classified as the lowest level of sex-offender status — meaning he is not listed in New York State's online sex offender registry.

Manhattan D.A. closes subsequent investigations into Hadden and Columbia University

In January 2020, Evelyn Yang, whose husband Andrew was running for president, brought a new spotlight to the case when she said in an interview that she was abused by Hadden. 

Weeks later, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office announced it had assigned prosecutors to investigate new allegations against Hadden.

CBS News reported in September 2020 that the office was also investigating Columbia University's handling of incidents involving Hadden, an investigation that was active as recently as October of last year.

Both investigations are now closed, a spokesperson for the office said Monday.

"After a rigorous investigation conducted under the supervision of senior leadership of our Major Economic Crimes Bureau and Sex Crimes Unit, the office determined that any possible criminal charges were time barred by the statute of limitations," the spokesperson said. 

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