Dr. Ricardo Arze and sex abuse cases shows disconnect between law enforcement, state regulators of doctors

Dr. Ricardo Arze mug provided the Cook County Sheriff's Press Office

A native of Bolivia, Arze was granted a physician's license by the state in 1989. In addition to running his private practice, he served on the staff of Berwyn's MacNeal Hospital from 1994 until his initial arrest in September 2007.

He said in court records he was treating more than 6,000 patients at Arze Doctors Center at the time of his arrest and that his practice had a "great emphasis on mental health" — including treatment for depression and other mood disorders.

The Chicago woman who made the 2003 report said she turned to Arze as a high school senior at the suggestion of her parents, who were already his patients. She was seeking help with depression that stemmed from sexual abuse by a relative, she said. (The Tribune does not generally publish the names of alleged sexual assault victims without their consent.)

Her mother said she always accompanied the teen into the exam room but that during an April 2003 visit Arze told the parents to wait outside.

"He said he wanted to talk to her one-on-one," the mother said.

Once they were alone, Arze told the girl that he would try to stimulate her in order to help clarify her sexual orientation and determine the level of depression, she said.

He pulled off her clothes, tried to force her to masturbate, placed his fingers inside her and pressed his body against hers, according to court and state records.

"I didn't know what to do," she said. "I got mad at myself like, 'How did I let this happen again?' I froze. … I could feel my blood boil."

The teen immediately told a friend about the incident but swore her to secrecy, fearing no one would believe her word against a doctor's, she said.

But weeks later, she confided in her parents and then in a high school counselor, who called the state Department of Children and Family Services. She said she worried the doctor would hurt other patients if she didn't report him.

The school counselor and a DCFS official accompanied the family to the Berwyn police station, where everyone was separately interviewed about the allegations, said the woman and her mother.

They said police gave them a chilly reception.

"They were rude — like, 'Why did you let this happen?'" said the woman, now married with children and working as a receptionist. "They didn't show any compassion."

An investigator later interviewed the girl's friend, but the family was unaware of any other actions by police.

An assistant Cook County prosecutor decided not to file charges against Arze because the doctor denied the allegations and there were no witnesses or physical evidence, said Sally Daly, spokeswoman for State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.

"I called one time, and they said we need to wait," the mother said. "But nobody ever called us back."

In March 2005, Berwyn police received a similar report about Arze from a 20-year-old Brookfield woman.

The woman alleged that during treatment for depression, Arze removed her bra, placed his hands on her breasts and tried to touch her genitals, according to a copy of the incident report and a complaint filed by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. The woman told the doctor his actions made her uncomfortable.

"(She) asked how his actions would help her depression. Dr. Arze related that he was trying to see if she would get sexually aroused and if so, she was not depressed," the police report said.

The woman, who came forward two days after the alleged incident, said doing so was difficult because, like the teen in the 2003 case and many of Arze's other patients, she is from an immigrant family.