A 17-year-old girl reported to Berwyn police in 2003 that her doctor, Ricardo Arze, had pulled off her clothes and sexually assaulted her in his exam room, state records show.
Two years later, another patient reported to Berwyn police that Arze had placed his hands on her breasts, breathed heavily on her neck and tried to touch her genitals, claiming it would help treat depression, according to a police report.
By that time, the family physician had allegedly assaulted at least 21 women and girls at his Arze Doctors Center in Berwyn, according to criminal and civil complaints that outline attacks stretching at least to 2000.
The Cook County state's attorney's office said it lacked enough evidence to prosecute Arze on the 2003 allegation and wasn't informed of the 2005 complaint until years later.
The women who made the reports said law enforcement officials brushed them aside at the time.
"If they had listened to me back then, all of this could have been avoided," said the woman who alleged assault in 2003, her eyes filling with tears. Prosecutors did charge Arze in the 2003 complaint five years later.
The case is the latest in a series of Tribune reports in which female patients have alleged that the system — law enforcement and state regulators — failed to protect them from dangerous doctors.
On Trib Nation, an essay on the common human themes at the heart of this story: Abuse of power and voiceless victims.
The newspaper has uncovered other cases in which physicians were allowed to continue practicing in spite of allegations of serious misconduct — and even convictions. Among them was Bruce Smith, a gynecologist who was not disciplined or prosecuted for years even as complaints of rape and sexual abuse multiplied against him. He was charged with sexual assault following a Tribune report in April.
The Arze case also reveals a disconnect between the criminal justice system and the state agency in charge of policing doctors. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and its medical disciplinary board did not learn of the 2003 and 2005 allegations against Arze until 2007, said Sue Hofer, the department's spokeswoman. State law does not require the department and police to share such complaints with each other, she said.
"It's inexcusable that the medical disciplinary board and police aren't sharing these allegations right away," said Sidney Wolfe, a director at the Washington-based watchdog group Public Citizen, which has examined the handling of sex-offending doctors nationwide.
"They should be working much more closely and much more quickly," Wolfe said. "People who engage in these behaviors are a menace to society, and it's worse when they wear the white coat and have an ethical duty to do no harm. This is a classic example of how in the absence of early intervention more people get harmed."
State regulators contacted Berwyn police in 2007 after receiving a complaint against Arze.
The Dallas-based Federation of State Medical Boards has issued guidelines instructing boards to "place a high priority on the investigation of complaints of sexual misconduct due to patient vulnerability" and making clear a single case is sufficient to proceed with a formal hearing, with or without corroborating evidence.
The guidelines support the use of undercover investigations, which were eventually used in the Arze case.
After his release on bond last year, Arze was rearrested and charged with practicing medicine without a license and aggravated fraud. After posting $1.5 million bail, he was released again and is awaiting trial on all charges.
Reached by phone at his Berwyn home, Arze denied he had resumed practicing and declined to comment on criminal charges of sexual assault, battery and unlawful restraint involving 14 patients. In court and state records, he has denied wrongdoing.
"I'm in the process of trying to survive," he said.