UPDATE: Former Lake Charles doctor LaFuria pleads guilty - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

UPDATE: Former Lake Charles doctor LaFuria pleads guilty

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Peter LaFuria. (Source: Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Office) Peter LaFuria. (Source: Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Office)
Former Lake Charles gynecologist Peter LaFuria pleaded guilty to 20 criminal charges on Wednesday. (Lee Peck / KPLC) Former Lake Charles gynecologist Peter LaFuria pleaded guilty to 20 criminal charges on Wednesday. (Lee Peck / KPLC)
Lake Charles, LA (AP) -

Former Lake Charles gynecologist Peter LaFuria pleaded guilty to 20 criminal charges on Wednesday.

LaFuria's charges are: five counts of sexual battery, five counts molestation of a juvenile, five counts video voyeurism and five counts of obscenity.

The charges come from 20 of about 180 former patients of LaFuria whose cases resulted in criminal charges.

LaFuria, who surrendered his medical license a few years back, will have to register as sex offender and is facing jail time and fines.

Two of LaFuria's former patients read victim impact statements and a statement from LaFuria was entered into court record.

Judge David Ritchie and the victims also discussed the damage LaFuria did by violating the trust.

"May God have mercy on your soul," one of the victims said in court. "Hell is made up of people like you."

LaFuria's sentencing is still to come.

 

Background

On April 30, 2007, LaFuria turned himself in at the Calcasieu Correctional Center, several days after a patient claimed that he photographed her in the exam room without her permission.

An arrest warrant was issued after law enforcement began investigating the allegations. Deputies seized computer equipment from LaFuria, which ultimately revealed thousands of explicit photographs of patients. LaFuria was initially booked for video voyeurism.

The same day LaFuria turned himself him, the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office began reaching out to LaFuria's patients, asking that they contact investigators if they thought they might be victims.

Investigators were soon inundated with calls from patients, wanting to know if they too had been photographed without their permission. As the investigation progressed, women were called to the sheriff's department to attempt to identify themselves in photos seized in the investigation.

Within four months, the investigation had grown to include many more patients -- eventually 222 in total. On Aug. 16, 2007, LaFuria was indicted on 269 criminal counts. The 15-page indictment accused him of 186 counts of video voyeurism, 78 counts of sexual battery and five counts of molestation of a juvenile.

Though it all, LaFuria has remained free on a $1.3 million bond. He was at a location not made public, but known to the court. At least part of that time was spent in a treatment facility.

 

Civil Lawsuits

There were civil suits brought by LaFuria's former  patients who were allegedly photographed in the exam room, without their permission.

In July of 2007, LaFuria was required to attend a creditors meeting in federal bankruptcy court, where he was forced to answer questions about his finances.

Attorneys asked if LaFuria had ever made any money off photos taken of patients, to which he responded, "No."

During the meeting it came out he had $1.9 million in real estate, including the home he used to own on River Lane, and $7.9 million in personal property.

By the end of 2007, the class action suit had been mostly settled. The doctor's share of his estate was initially valued at about $9 million dollars. Part of the estate went to his wife and another part was exempt from seizure, leaving him about $3 million to settle with patients.

In 2012, it came to light the woman who blew the whistle on LaFuria, Brandi Skye Taylor, had died unexpectedly. If not for Taylor, LaFuria might never have been investigated for taking explicit pictures of patients without their knowledge and alleged improper touching, in some cases. In 2012, a small group paid tribute to Taylor as the final proceeds from civil lawsuits were presented to Oasis women's shelter. $75,000 was provided to help victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

 

Long Legal Road

In the years that followed there were numerous, complex legal issues to be resolved in the criminal case. The defense tried unsuccessfully to get much of the photo evidence thrown out, arguing it was not properly seized by law enforcement.

The case was also unique because of privacy issues affecting victims. Through it all, law enforcement, the district attorney and the court went to great lengths to protect the identity of victims and to strictly limit viewing of the explicit photos to as few people as possible.

For years details of the investigation and evidence has been closely guarded by law enforcement and prosecutors. In October, 2012, some of those details began to emerge in a hearing to determine which evidence could be used against LaFuria at trial.

Then, detective Patty Bailey testified it all started when a patient saw LaFuria take a picture of her while she was undressed. According to her testimony, the woman's husband made an appointment to see LaFuria the next day, to question him about the photo. Bailey said LaFuria admitted to taking a photo to document scaring or tissue, but claimed the camera battery was low and the picture didn't come out. The husband asked to see paperwork authorizing the photo and LaFuria allegedly told the husband he didn't need permission to take photos.

The investigation eventually led to the discovery of thousands of photos allegedly taken of LaFuria's patients in the exam room.

Bailey testified how their search of LaFuria's truck at his home led to the discovery of cameras and disks in a bag. She testified how they advised LaFuria of his rights, as they began the search of his truck. She said when they discovered the bag LaFuria said, "That's it. That's the camera. I'm so stupid."

Bailey said twice LaFuria tried to grab the bag and that she told him to step away or she would cuff him. She testified the doctor said "it was the worst day of his life, that he was going to kill himself.." and that he said, "It was just porn."

Bailey testified they became concerned because they thought he was suicidal. She later described images found on disks they seized including numerous images of nude women in the exam room, including close up pictures of their breasts and private parts.

The defense had argued search warrants issued for LaFuria's medical office were improperly extended to his truck at home. Ultimately, the Louisiana Supreme Court decided that the evidence could be used against LaFuria at trial. However, Wednesday's guilty plea means LaFuria won't stand trial.

Ultimately, the estimated number of victims was whittled down to about 180, because some of the alleged video voyeurism cases were too old to prosecute.

Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier has said he will go to the legislature and ask that the law be changed so that there's more time to prosecute such cases. As it is, the crime of video voyeurism must be prosecuted within six years of the offense. DeRosier wants the law changed so that the deadline extends six years after the discovery of the of the pictures by law enforcement.

 

KPLC will have more on later editions.

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