The Miami Herald

May 14, 1988 Saturday


BYLINE: TRACEY EATON Herald Staff Writer


LENGTH: 981 words

Dr. Richard Seely, a Princeton graduate with boyish good looks and blue eyes, seemed to have the world in his hands when he started a psychiatry practice in Naples three years ago.
Now he faces possible criminal charges. State officials also have suspended his medical license and his patients are angry.
John Franck Jr., 45, a Naples Park security guard, visited Seely in July 1985 after a neurologist referred him for treatment of a neck injury. Before long, Franck said he was hooked on the Darvon and other pain-killers Seely prescribed. He said he agreed to share his drugs with the doctor because Seely threatened to cut off his 30-pill-a-day supply.
“He used to give me cash, and I got prescriptions for me and him,” Franck said. “I trusted the guy. I believed he was my friend.”
When Seely abandoned his practice in January and left town, Franck went to a drug detoxification center. His wife, Cathy Franck, 43, remains bitter. “I want to see this son of a b —- behind bars,” she said. “I don’t want him to even be able to work at a 7-Eleven. He raped these people’s minds. He took advantage of their weaknesses.”
Barbara Park, 46, of Naples, a former paramedic who first saw Seely in July 1986 for treatment of a back injury.
“He was a regular guy,” she said. “You couldn’t help but like him. We all had physical problems, emotional problems, and he sympathized with us.”
Seely even gave Parks $124 to fix her car water pump, and he gave $400 to another patient so he could pay a vet bill, she said.
But no matter how kind Seely was, Parks said she’s glad he’s gone. When he left, she finally stopped taking pain- killers, sedatives and sleeping pills. .
“This is the first time in two years I have had a straight head,” she said. “I was in a fog.”
The Franck’s 23-year-old daughter-in-law, Tracy Franck, worked as a secretary for Seely for about a month. “You’d never know what he was talking about,” she said. “You’d think it was because he’s a psychiatrist and had weird ways.”
Now Tracy Franck suspects Seely had “weird ways” because he had a drug problem.
Seely, rumored to be at a drug treatment center on the East Coast, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Richard Blackwell Seely attended an exclusive prep school in Concord, N.H., before going on to Princeton University in the 1960s. He majored in Slavic languages, belonged to the Russian Club, made the dean’s list and played football in the 150-pound league.
Seely was a resident physician at Jackson Memorial Hospital from 1980 to 1984. He was also an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Miami.
He moved to Naples in mid-1985 and became director of the 24-bed psychiatric unit at Naples Community Hospital in December 1985.
“He came well recommended,” said Dr. Richard Cavallaro, medical director at the hospital. “He did look good on paper.”
Hospital officials became concerned when Seely started missing appointments with patients. And in late January, Cavallaro said, officials told Seely to resign or he’d be fired. He resigned.
Betty and Stephen Vento, whose 15-year-old son was Seely’s patient, said they are considering taking legal action against Seely.
Earlier this year, they said, Seely told their son to stay away from home because his parents wanted to commit him to a mental hospital. The Ventos deny that. Seely began treating the boy in July 1987. At the time, Betty Vento said she thought of him as “the Marcus Welby of psychiatrists.” He came to their home in Naples Park to pick up their son when he needed treatment and he even took the boy on outings.
Vento, a 38-year-old nurse, didn’t think it was unusual that Seely developed such a close relationship with her son. He seemed so caring and sincere, she said.
Vento didn’t argue when Seely said her son should no longer live at home. Seely promised he’d take care of the boy at a friend’s estate on Marco Island. Later, the doctor said the boy would stay at an exclusive residential treatment center he planned to open on Marco. It was to be called Children of Florida.
Vento said the doctor told her that if she didn’t agree to let the boy go, the state would probably “take him away, put him in a state hospital and medicate him into a zombie.”
Vento, said she and her husband, Stephen, a 39-year-old mental health technician, were shocked when they found out their son had spent the night at Seely’s office, missed nine weeks of school and picked up illegal prescription drugs for Seely. An anonymous caller told Vento Seely had sexually molested her son, a charge Seely later denied.
As for the boy, Stephen Vento said he was devastated when he found out Seely abandoned him.
Their son, now 16, is at a drug treatment center “trying to undo some of what Dr. Seely did,” Stephen Vento said. “He doesn’t trust us.”
Not everyone is so critical of Seely. Julie Dowell, his office manager from August 1985 to March 1987, said Seely was a brilliant, compassionate man who had difficulty managing money.
“He didn’t leave town to get away from his patients,” she said. “He left town to get away from his debts. I don’t think Dr. Seely ever wanted to hurt anybody.”
Dowell, who described Seely as having a boyish face and “puppy-dog eyes,” said the doctor was also overworked and spent a lot of time traveling from Naples to see his wife, Jana, in Miami.
“She didn’t want to move to Naples,” Dowell said. “He’d leave here at noon on Friday and tear . . . over to Miami. He was so in love with Jana. Jana got what she wanted — from expensive jewelry to $2,000 water beds.”
A woman who answered the telephone at the Miami residence of Jana Seely and identified herself as Jana said Friday she did not know Seely’s whereabouts. “I don’t know how to get in touch with him,” she said.
Whatever happens, Dowell said she hopes Seely doesn’t end up in prison.
“I hate to think about Dr. Seely going to jail,” she said. “If he went to jail, I think he’d die.”