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VA doctor in fondling case put on probation

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 16, 1999


LARGO -- A former cardiologist at the VA Medical Center at Bay Pines in St. Petersburg pleaded no contest Wednesday to charges that he fondled three male patients during routine medical exams.

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Dr. Nicolas T. Valenti
Dr. Nicolas T. Valenti, 62, of Clearwater, fired by the VA on May 27 after the allegations surfaced, was placed on one year of probation by Pinellas County Judge Thomas Freeman and was prohibited from practicing medicine during probation.

Valenti, who also was ordered to attend sex-offender counseling and pay $220 in court costs after his plea to three misdemeanor battery charges, would not comment.

One of the men Valenti is accused of fondling told Freeman that he was angered prosecutors hadn't charged the doctor with a felony.

"I think Dr. Valenti betrayed the most basic trust between a patient and a doctor," said the man, who is not identified because of the nature of the charges. "He's getting off really easy. He's going to do this again."

Prosecutors recommended the sentence to Freeman, who rejected a bid by Valenti to withhold a formal finding of guilt.

Prosecutor Rhonda Stringer said her office could not charge Valenti with felony sexual battery because she could not prove that sexual penetration occurred. While two patients received rectal exams during the time they said they were abused, Stringer said it could not be proved that they were not legitimate exams.

"But it was clearly obvious the fondling of the patients' genitals was inappropriate and beyond the normal standards of care," Stringer said. "It's not crystal clear that (the rectal exams) were inappropriate."

Valenti's attorney, Louis Kwall, said his client is not admitting the charges. He said Valenti simply wanted to get on with his life.

"He just decided it wasn't time to face trial on this," Kwall said. "He wasn't up to it. He decided it wasn't worth the hassle."

Kwall noted that Valenti worked in private practice for more than 30 years without being accused of sexual indiscretion.

"All of a sudden, after just a few months at the VA, he's accused of this and there's a big investigation," Kwall said.

Valenti's license to practice medicine could conceivably be suspended by the Florida Board of Medicine, Kwall said, even after the doctor finishes his probation.

Valenti might not want to continue practicing anyway, Kwall said. "He's pretty much retired," the lawyer said. "He may just tell the board, "Forget it. I don't want to be a doctor anymore.' "

The allegations against Valenti came to light after a 48-year-old Navy veteran complained about him.

The man said he'd gone to the outpatient clinic at Bay Pines because of arthritic shoulder pain, a side effect of Crohn's disease which he has suffered for more than a decade. But instead of examining the patient's shoulder, Valenti pulled down the man's undershorts and began masturbating him, the man said.

Unsure anyone would believe him, the man waited a week before reporting the incident. He formally complained after the doctor was assigned to examine him during his next visit to the clinic.

The VA said Valenti started working for the agency just four months before he was fired. He came highly recommended and did not have a blemish on his career, a VA spokesman said.

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