A 40-year-old mother of five told how, after a nervous breakdown, she sought help from a psychologist who has an office in Mahoning Township.
According to testimony at a preliminary hearing yesterday, instead of getting help, the psychologist took advantage of the allegedly vulnerable woman and engaged in a sexual act with her. The victim testified that a couple of days later, she had another nervous breakdown.
The defendant in the case is Michael T. Degilio, 41, of Penn Forest Township, who at the time had an office along Route 443 in Lehighton.
Degilio is facing charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault, and indecent exposure. The first of the three counts is a felony.
District Judge Edward M. Lewis of Jim Thorpe ordered that all three of the charges be bound for trial in Carbon County Court.
Testifying at the hearing were Jeffrey Frace of the Mahoning Township Police Department, the arresting officer; Dr. R. William Tallichet of State College, a psychologist who testified as an expert witness, and the victim.
Dr. Tallichet said that when someone suffering emotionally seeks help from a psychologist, the persons divulge their inner-most secrets.
"They would potentially be vulnerable...and could potentially be open to exploitation," he said.
The victim said she suffered a nervous breakdown on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, 2009 following a fight with her husband. As a result, she got a voluntary commitment to the behavioral unit of the Gnaden Huetten Campus of Blue Mountain Health System.
When she was released, the psychologist she preferred wasn't available, so the hospital put her in touch with Dr. Degilio. She was also placed on two types of medication while in the hospital.
Two days after her discharge from Blue Mountain, she visited Degilio. There was no secretary present, and only she and Dr. Degilio were in the office.
She said he asked her questions "that were sexual in nature." At the end of the session, she told him she would be more comfortable going back into the behavioral health unit of the hospital, but "he said I was too pretty."
While she was sitting on a couch in his office, "he told me he had a fiancee and he cheated on her all the time," said the victim. "He told me he loves sex and he loves women."
"He also said if anything happened between me and him, I couldn't tell anyone because his license was on the line," according to testimony.
Because Degilio assured her that he could help, she made a second appointment.
"By Dr. Degilio saying he could help me, I was looking forward to my next appointment," she said.
"He told me I was very pretty," she said regarding the second appointment. "Then he kissed me. We kissed."
The victim said he then proceeded to have a sexual act with her. Afterwards, Degilio allegedly told the victim to apply more lipstick and offered to return her $40, which represented the co-pays for her health insurance. She declined to take the $40.
She said she left the office and visited a female friend.
"I told her what happened and asked her if I did anything wrong," the victim testified.
Two days later, she had another nervous breakdown. She went to the hospital and told personnel there about the alleged incident with the psychologist. She again was voluntarily admitted to the behavioral health unit.
Under cross examination, she admitted she hadn't resisted Degilio's alleged advances.
"When he said how pretty I was, I said, 'I'm not used to complements,'" said the victim.
Officer Frace testified about serving search warrants on Degilio.
Degilio was represented by attorney John Waldron, who objected to having Dr. Tallichet as an expert witness. However, the prosecutor, attorney James Lavelle, countered that Dr. Tallichet would explain the relationship between a doctor and a patient.
Dr. Tallichet remarked that when a patient with emotional problems comes to a psychologist for treatment, "it is not a level playing field," adding that the doctor has the distinct advantage.
"I think when people come to treatment for psychotherapy, they are looking for something," he said. "They are hopeful."
He also emphasized they are vulnerable.
In closing arguments, attorney Waldron told the court that the victim "knew what she was doing."
"Anything she was doing was consentual and of her own volition," he said.
Attorney Lavelle disagreed, stating, "Forcible compulsion as defined in the law includes intellectual, moral, or psychological use either expressed or implied."
He said when the victim sought help from Degilio, "Her life was falling apart. She was a desperate woman."
"Mentally, this woman was in very, very poor condition," Lavelle commented, adding, "Help is what she wanted more than anything else."
Forcible compulsion, he said, "is not necessarily holding a knife to someone's throat."
Attorney Waldron said of the preliminary hearing, "We got what we needed in looking at the alleged victim."
He said that crossing the line by a professional is not the same as the charges confronting Degilio.
He said he is hoping for a trial by jury.