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Doctor found dead in New York's Rikers jail just weeks after being convicted of sexually assaulting his patients

Ricardo Cruciani, 68, had been jailed since a New York City jury found him guilty on a dozen criminal counts in July.
Dr. Ricardo Cruciani walks from the Center for Criminal Justice in Philadelphia on Nov. 21, 2017.
Dr. Ricardo Cruciani walks from the Center for Criminal Justice in Philadelphia on Nov. 21, 2017. Matt Rourke / AP file

A New York-area neurologist convicted in July of sexually assaulting his patients was found dead of an apparent suicide Monday morning in the Rikers Island jail complex, his attorney and prosecutors said.

Dr. Ricardo Cruciani, 68, had been jailed for more than two weeks awaiting sentencing after a New York City jury found him guilty on a dozen criminal counts, including two of rape, seven of criminal sexual acts, one of predatory sexual assault and one of attempted rape. He was expected to be sentenced Sept. 14.

The New York City Department of Correction did not immediately confirm the identity of the deceased, but said the inmate died at 6:30 a.m.

A correction officer first noticed Cruciani in need of medical attention around 5:35 a.m. and radioed for help, a source familiar with the matter said. Medical staff arrived in less than 10 minutes and a doctor was also called to the scene before Cruciani was pronounced dead, according to a report of the incident, the source said.

"I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of this person in custody," Commissioner Louis Molina said in a statement. "We will conduct a preliminary internal review to determine the circumstances surrounding his death."

Nicholas Biase, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan, declined to comment on whether federal prosecutors plan to dismiss a related federal case against Cruciani on sex abuse charges. Federal prosecutors typically do so when a defendant dies, such as after financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein took his own life in a Manhattan jail in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

The state's case against Cruciani, a neurologist with offices in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia, involved allegations made by six female patients over a span of 15 years. Prosecutors said Cruciani took advantage of them by overprescribing pain killers as part of their treatment and forcing them into sexual acts in order to receive more medication.

At the monthslong trial, Assistant District Attorney Shannon Lucey described Cruciani to the jury as "evil in a white coat" and a "small, devious man who could have used his highly intelligent ways for good instead of bad."

Cruciani's attorneys had planned to appeal the guilty verdict, saying last month that "in the end, it appears that the collective weight of six accusers, rather than a fair consideration of each of their problematic accounts, carried the day."

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Frederick Sosinky, who represented Cruciani at trial, said his attorneys had asked the Department of Correction to place him in protective custody and under suicide watch when he entered Rikers, but that "neither of these conditions were, to our knowledge, ever complied with."

"We are calling for an immediate and objective investigation into the actual circumstances of Ricardo's death, including, most fundamentally, why in the world Corrections failed to follow the Court's orders regarding placement of Ricardo," he said in a statement.

The department did not respond to a request for further comment.

Jeffrey Fritz, an attorney whose law firm represents 30 women who say they were victimized by Cruciani, said they all feel similarly "cheated" out of further justice by his apparent suicide.

"It is a sad day for all of his victims who will never get to have finality and never have the chance to address the defendant to tell him directly how his crimes greatly impacted their lives," Hillary Tullin, who had testified at trial that the doctor had abused her for several years, said in a statement.

"There are other women in the federal and New Jersey criminal cases who will never get that chance at criminal justice," she added.

Terrie Phoenix, another of Cruciani's accusers who spoke at his trial, said: "I take comfort knowing he now faces another judge."

Cruciani's death is the 12th in 2022 to involve an inmate at Rikers who was being held there or had just been released. Last year, 15 people died while being jailed at the complex or soon after leaving.

Rikers is operated by the Department of Correction, which has plans to close the complex in the next five years and replace it with smaller jails. Reform advocates say the action has emphasized how issues such as solitary confinement remain troubling and must be addressed.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.