Doylestown psychiatrist found guilty in sexual assaults of seven patients
By Hayden Mitman
October 14, 2014
At the end of more than two hours of deliberations, a Bucks County jury found Dr. Basem Shlewiet guilty on 16 of 18 criminal counts that included forcible indecent assault, indecent assault without consent and unlawful contact with a minor. The four men and eight women jurors, however, acquitted the doctor of two remaining counts of indecent assault, both related to one of his adult patients.
While he will sentence Shlewiet in 60 days, county Judge Wallace Bateman revoked the doctor’s bail so that he could be held in a state prison to receive a mental health evaluation and a screening to determine if he should be considered a violent sexual offender. Shlewiet, 42, of Buckingham, could be sentenced to serve more than five years in a state prison.
“The things I heard in this case were, to say the least, troubling,” said Bateman, noting the psychiatrist had betrayed his patients’ trust when he should have been helping them.
After the verdict was read, Shlewiet’s family and supporters could be heard wailing outside the court room. As sheriff’s deputies led him from the courtroom in handcuffs, one person shouted, “he’s innocent!”
Shlewiet’s trial lasted more than one week. Throughout the proceedings, he faced every one of the eight female accusers, who each testified that the doctor had touched them inappropriately during what he claimed were routine heart rate and blood pressure tests.
According to their testimony, most of the females said they were touched inappropriately while Shlewiet said he was checking the heart rate. One woman said she was 17 at the time Shlewiet had touched her during an exam while telling her she needed a massage.
In his closing arguments Tuesday, Shlewiet’s defense attorney, Louis Busico, reminded jurors of the many character witnesses who offered supportive testimony — most of them fellow members of the doctor’s church in South Philadelphia who spoke to Shlewiet’s “law-abiding” nature.
“The father may be one person, but he brought a congregation along with him” to support Shlewiet, Busico said of the Rev. Vincent Farhat, pastor of St. Maron Maronite Catholic Church, where Shlewiet celebrated Mass.
Busico also pointed out that law enforcement never sent in an undercover cop to find out if Shlewiet could be caught in the act and police, he said, never recorded any conversation of Shlewiet ever discussing his crimes.
Also, Busico addressed each of the doctor’s accusers, notably a 34-year-old woman who claimed that while she too was groped, she also told the jury that on one occasion Shlewiet kissed her then ran from his office when she confronted him about it.
He reminded the jury that the woman also paid $200 for the visit when she said she was kissed by Shlewiet.
“Why would she pay $200 for the privilege of a kiss? Because it didn’t happen,” argued Busico.
Busico also told the jury that prior to a press release that police sent out after Shlewiet was arrested in January, only two women had come forward.
The defense attorney — who was a co-defending attorney with Abigail Fillman — said that by putting out an “ad” police might have been contacted by people with ulterior motives.
“To put out that advertisement, how reasonably — how remotely — sure can you be that you’ll be getting victims and not people looking for something more?” he asked rhetorically.
County prosecutor Lindsay Vaughan — who co-prosecuted the case with Ashley Towhey — defended the women’s testimony.
“What do these girls get if they aren’t telling the truth? First, they get to admit that they are seeing a psychiatrist,” she said.
Vaughan noted that after making any claim against Shlewiet, the women had to repeat their stories to police, prosecutors and before the jury in open court.
“That’s all they get,” said Vaughan.
Instead, she said that each woman told the truth — “That’s not revisionist history, it happened,” she said — and told the jury that Shlewiet preyed on women who were vulnerable to him because he was their doctor.
“He was banking on the fact that they wouldn’t be able to confront him,” Vaughan said. “So, he could say ‘These girls all have problems. You can’t believe them. Believe me. I’m a doctor.’ ”