The three women said they had gone to see Dr. Ricardo Cruciani because the noted Drexel University pain management specialist gave them release from the intractable physical pain that made their lives a misery.
But they left his office with a new kind of pain: emotional trauma from unwelcome sexual contact by a doctor whom they had come to trust.
On Tuesday, the three women got the chance to tell Cruciani what he did to them after the 63-year-old neurologist pleaded guilty in Philadelphia Municipal Court to misdemeanor counts of sexually predatory behavior against them and four other women patients between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, 2016. He was sentenced to seven years' reporting probation as a sex offender for his plea to three counts of indecent assault and four counts of harassment by unwanted physical contact.
"What you did was take a part of my soul, and you took it to a dark spot," said one woman, who described Cruciani hugging and kissing her during a visit to relieve her pain from spinal stenosis and related ailments. She said she has been unable to seek treatment since then, because "I no longer trust anyone."
"I believed in him. I can't understand why he would do this," said the woman, her voice cracking. "He needs help. He's a monster."
Judge Gerard A. Kosinski immediately imposed the sentence agreed on by Cruciani's lawyers and the District Attorney's Office: seven years of reporting probation to a sex-offender unit, sex offender treatment and registration as a Tier 1 offender under Pennsylvania's Megan's Law, which means he must annually report in person and verify his address with the state police for 15 years.
Cruciani's medical license was suspended Oct. 3 following his arrest Sept. 26. Kosinski also barred him from seeing patients during his probation.
"You've been sentenced to 84 months of reporting probation," Kosinski said. "You've sentenced your victims to a life of pain."
Cruciani, dressed in a gray pinstriped business suit and flanked by attorneys Linda Dale Hoffa and Dana Bazelon, uttered barely audible responses to questions from Kosinski and Assistant District Attorney Vilma Cubias.
Before he was sentenced, Cruciani said, "I'm truly sorry if I caused anyone harm or pain." After the hearing, he walked to the gallery and hugged his wife, Nora, and kissed her forehead.
On Wednesday, with court permission, Cruciani and his wife will fly to his native Argentina for the wedding of their daughter. He must return Sunday so that he can report to his probation officer.
Hoffa said after the hearing that Cruciani is a naturalized U.S. citizen and there was no reason to fear that he would not return to the United States.
Cubias, who had objected at an Oct. 31 hearing to permitting Cruciani to travel to Argentina, said that country has an extradition treaty with the U.S.
Hoffa said Cruciani intends to "comply with all court mandates, abandon his academic career and the medical profession entirely, and do whatever is in his power to begin the healing process."
Hoffa said that Cruciani has had a "very long and distinguished medical career" and that she received unsolicited offers from former patients willing to testify on his behalf: "He wanted to express his deepest appreciation for their unwavering emotional support."
Cruciani's victims, however, described only trauma and betrayal. Another of the victims told the judge that Cruciani "took advantage of me at the most vulnerable time of my life." She said she twice tried to kill herself after her experience and was hospitalized for an extended period.
"I'm disappointed that he's not going to spend one day in jail," she added.
"You altered my and so many other lives," said a third victim.
The women's names are being withheld at their attorneys' request. The Inquirer and Daily News do not publish the names of sexual assault victims without their consent.
Cruciani, of Wynnewood, was arrested by Philadelphia police Sept. 26, six months after Drexel fired him from his post as chairman of the neurology department in its College of Medicine. He treated patients at Drexel's Neurosciences Institute at 219 N. Broad St.
The Associated Press reported last weekend that 17 women in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York had accused Cruciani of kissing, groping, and other sexual contact in incidents beginning 12 years ago. Beyond the criminal penalties, civil lawyers present in court Tuesday said they are planning lawsuits against him in all three states.
Cruciani worked for years at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City before moving to New Jersey, where he worked at Capital Health Medical Center, near Trenton, from 2014 to 2016 before moving to Drexel.
He specialized in pain management, especially for people with long-term intractable pain resistant to other treatments. That reputation allegedly made his female patients especially vulnerable to his unwanted sexual contact out of a fear that he would stop treating them, authorities said.