By LENNY SAVINO
TAMPA – The line of women accusing former University of South Florida chief psychiatrist Anthony John Reading of groping them during therapy sessions is getting longer.
Last week, a fourth patient reported that at her final session in December 2003, Reading fondled her and forced her to kiss him.
In her report to the Department of Health, the patient said she was treated for depression by Reading for five years. Like the other women who have come forward with accusations, she was wrestling with self-esteem issues after a divorce. Others had broken up with a boyfriend.
Reading, 71, would greet her in the waiting room of USF\’s outpatient clinic, hold her hand and walk her to his office, she said. The sessions ended with Reading hugging her \”tightly.\”
\”At the time, I thought he was just being kind and that he cared about me,\” she wrote in the report.
At the close of her final session in December 2003, Reading hugged her tightly once again. This time, however, he ran his hand down and around one of her breasts, then to her bottom, she said. After that, the patient said in an interview, Reading held her by the cheeks and tried to kiss her.
\”I was so stunned that I could not speak,\” she said. The Tribune is not naming her because she allegedly is the victim of a sex crime.
Reading\’s attorney said: \”We are aware of these new allegations, but we don\’t have any comment at this time.\”
Reading has told the Tribune that the allegations against him are \”not true.\”
\”The only proper way to handle this is through the court,\” Reading has said.
In December 2003, Reading was preparing to leave USF after nearly 30 years. During most of that time, he was chairman of the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Medicine and ran the clinic. He had formally resigned his chairmanship in 2000 but continued to teach courses and treat patients under the state\’s Deferred Retirement Option Program.
By the end of 2003, Reading was finishing a six-month salary contract, according to his personnel file.
He told faculty members that he was moving to Panama City, Fla., to be closer to his family. A job at the Bay Behavioral Health Center awaited him. As its medical director, he would earn $108,000 a year for working 25 hours a week, mostly evaluating patients, according to the center\’s personnel unit.
After state health officials issued an emergency order in September, Reading was restricted to administrative duties at the center, said its director, Rick Smith.
Smith has said Reading has received a positive evaluation since he was hired in January 2004 and that he has been a \”very professional addition\” to the center\’s medical staff.
Trouble already was brewing for Reading at USF in March 2003. That month, patient Tina Logan walked out of Reading\’s office and called Tampa police. Her therapist inappropriately hugged her passionately during her first two sessions, she reported, and after the second, he fondled one of her breasts, saying: \”See, you\’re not as unattractive as you think,\” according to the police report.
Reading failed a polygraph test on the incidents, but the Hillsborough County State Attorney\’s Office declined to prosecute the misdemeanor charge, saying it was a \”he said, she said\” case lacking witnesses or physical evidence. Polygraphs are generally not admissible in court unless the defendant consents. Logan is suing Reading and USF for negligence.
The women who have spoken to authorities said they were molested by Reading in 2003 or earlier.
Gail Blanco, 36, said Reading first fondled and caressed her inappropriately on Feb. 12, 2003, at her 10th visit, according to a chronology prepared by her attorney, Ralph Fernandez. The abuse continued until her final visit Dec. 16, 2003, she said. In March 2004, Blanco reported the alleged abuse to Reading\’s replacement at USF, John Zak.
Handling The Accusations
USF spokesman Michael Hoad said Zak referred three complaints about Reading, not including Logan\’s, to the Department of Health. Police reported Logan\’s complaint to the Department of Health. Citing privacy concerns, Hoad would not disclose the names of the other complainants.
In response to a public records request for complaints against Reading since he was hired in 1975, USF General Counsel R.B. Friedlander said the university is ascertaining whether records exist that could \”legally be disclosed.\”
\”Upon completion of that review, we will release any such documents if they exist,\” she wrote.
USF has referred three complaints against Reading to the Department of Health, Friedlander wrote, declining to discuss them citing privacy law. Logan and Blanco have consented to having their names published.
In its restriction order against Reading, the Department of Health identified a fourth complainant as \”S.C., a 34-year-old female.\” According to the order, S.C. said Reading groped her numerous times. It began with hugs at the close of sessions and progressed to reaching under her suit jacket to touch her breasts, trying to kiss her on the lips, and once hugging her from the back with an erection, the order states.
During other sessions, Reading would have S.C. remove her suit jacket and twirl like a model, while he commented on how attractive she was, the order states.
Karen Stanley, of the Hillsborough County State Attorney\’s Office, said the complaints are being evaluated.