Pocono Record
Cresco ex-psychiatrist caught ‘grooming’ boy on Facebook sentenced
By Andrew Scott
July 11, 2015

Michael Kessler

Psychiatrist Michael Kessler was sentenced to state prison for trying to lure a 13-year-old boy to meet him for sex

A Monroe County mother’s protective vigilance in monitoring her son’s Facebook account is what likely spared him from being victimized by someone she and her family had known and trusted.

“You messed with the wrong mother’s child,” she told former psychiatrist Michael Kessler, 45, of Cresco, in court Friday, shortly before Kessler was sentenced to 1½ to five years in state prison on his guilty plea to unlawful contact with a minor.

Sexually abused as a child, Kessler had been charged in 2001, after two boys reported seeing him nude and masturbating in the front window of a Massachusetts home, and again in 2010, after three boys reported seeing him masturbating in his vehicle in a New Jersey mall parking lot. He pleaded guilty in both cases and was sentenced to probation.

In this case, Kessler befriended the mother, thinking she was more vulnerable as a single parent, and her children.

He then began “grooming” her son, who was 13 at the time. Grooming is a process sexual offenders use to get closer to victims and, in this and many other cases, involves offenders giving victims gifts.

The mother in May 2013 became suspicious of what appeared to be a 14-year-old boy contacting her son on Facebook. This 14-year-old in reality was Kessler posing as a child.

The mother contacted police, who referred the case to the Monroe County District Attorney’s Detective Division, which specializes in catching online predators.

When Kessler next contacted the 13-year-old, he had no idea he was really talking to Detective Brian Webbe posing as the victim. Unsolicited by Webbe when bringing up the topic of sex, Kessler sent links to pornographic videos, along with a photo of a nude male, and said he wanted to perform oral and other sex.

Becoming paranoid

Kessler was later charged. As a condition of his bail, he was ordered to have no form of further contact with any children and stay offline, but violated this condition by starting an online dating service.

“Because of your actions and how you abused my family’s trust and targeted my son, I’m now even more protective of my children, to the point of being what others might call paranoid,” the mother told Kessler in court Friday as he stared silently back at her. “I don’t even want to think what could’ve happened if this had gone further had I not become aware early enough to prevent it. I believe society, especially children, should be protected from people like you. I believe you should be sentenced to the maximum penalty allowed in this case.”

Her aunt said the family has lost sleep and missed work while worrying and waiting two years for Kessler to finally be brought to justice.

Dr. John Abbruzzese, a Stroudsburg-based psychologist who had referred patients to Kessler in the past, likewise asked the court to impose a sentence that would keep Kessler from having any form of further contact with children. Abbruzzese said he believes Kessler would commit the same type of crime if given the chance.

Defense attorney James Swetz requested a more lenient county jail sentence, rather than a state prison sentence. Swetz said Kessler, though committing a serious enough offense, never intended to take it further and actually try meeting the victim in person for any sexual contact.

He added that Kessler had cooperated with authorities from the start in this case, waived his district court preliminary hearing and pleaded guilty to avoid a trial, sparing the victim’s family the humiliation of testimony. Swetz suggested a county jail sentence where the court could control the length of the probationary period, upon completion of that sentence, and thus the risk of Kessler committing further crimes.

Defendant apologizes

When given a chance to speak on his own behalf, Kessler apologized for his actions, saying he had exercised “poor judgment.”

“I have a reasonably good understanding of what caused my behavior,” he said. “It’s not a single cause. My judgment is now much better due to the treatment I’ve been receiving. I apologize to the victim’s family without expecting forgiveness or understanding. I wish them nothing but the best.

“I’d like to be given a more lenient sentence so that I can have the chance to show the court what I’m capable of in atoning for the wrongs I’ve done,” he said. “This case will not be my elegy, but my promise to show that I’m much more than just the offenses I’ve committed. I never want to be in another criminal courtroom again.”

Assistant District Attorney Michael Rakaczewski said, “I’m sure the defendant uttered those same words when charged in 2001 in Massachusetts and again in 2010 in New Jersey. He has exhibited a clear pattern of this type of behavior. He has been diagnosed with a disorder that causes him to like boys seeing him masturbate. Given this type of history, we oppose a county jail sentence and in fact request a departure to a sentence longer than the aggravated-range sentence recommended for this offense.”

Monroe County Court Judge Stephen Higgins agreed.

“You have four arrests and now a third conviction on your record,” Higgins told Kessler. “You indeed have a pattern of very disturbing behavior, which you continued by specifically targeting the victim in this case, gaining his and his family’s trust and grooming him.

“You’re obviously a well-educated, very bright man, but it’s a shame that you have this dark side as well,” Higgins said. “Society must be protected from such behavior. While I agree that a county jail sentence is too lenient in a case like this, I don’t believe a departure from the aggravated-range sentence is appropriate. This sentence I impose will guarantee both protection for the community and access to continued treatment for you.”

Webbe said after the sentencing that he is happy the case has finally reached this point.

“We know how frustrating it’s been for the victim’s family to have to wait this long for justice,” he said. “One thing we’d like everyone to remember is that this investigation wouldn’t have existed without the actions of a caring, alert mother. We need more parents like her.”

Michael Kessler