DAVENPORT, Iowa — A federal judge Thursday handed down the highest possible prison sentence and a $400,000 fine to a former doctor who has admitted to drugging and sexually assaulting patients at his Muscatine clinic for years.
David Gierlus, 60, of Illinois City, was immediately taken into custody following a nearly two-hour sentencing hearing at U.S. District Court, Davenport, as his wife, Kathy, sobbed with their three adult children in the courtroom and shouted to him, "I love you."
His attorney, Jeff Lang, had just pleaded one last time to U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose to allow Gierlus to self-report, as his wife is battling cancer.
It was no use. Rose called Gierlus' behavior "troubling," citing court records which he is not disputing that state he had sexual contact with 18 victims, including three patients he injected with drugs before assaulting them. Two of those patients lost consciousness and one lost control while he molested them, Rose said.
The judge called Gierlus a "sexual predator," saying he preyed on "vulnerable" women who suffered from mental illness or were victims of sexual abuse as children. Many of them were Medicaid patients, including one he gave rent money to in exchange for sex, Rose said.
Gierlus said in court that knowing he'll be 67 when he leaves prison and that his wife might already be dead, he considers the eight years a "life sentence."
He faced up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of unlawfully distributing a Schedule III controlled substance, hydrocodone. Ninety-four other counts were dismissed.
While the one count involves one victim, court records show Gierlus is not disputing evidence brought to light Thursday that he had sexual contact with 18 victims, including patients he saw in his clinic and women he saw outside the office.
Using a federal sentencing guideline range, Gierlus and prosecutors agreed to a prison term near the top of the range. But what lawyers argued about for much of Thursday's hearing was how much of a fine the judge should impose.
Lang suggested a fine around $12,000.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Cliff Cronk demanded $500,000, saying the case was more than just a case of a doctor writing a few illegal prescriptions. Cronk said Gierlus "systematically" abused his patients as far back as 2005 and continued until he was caught a year ago.
Cronk described one encounter: "He grabbed her with both arms and pulled her close. He straddled her leg and pulled her closer. He hugged her. He turned her head and kissed her. He attempted to insert his tongue."
Other encounters included sexual intercourse and other sex acts, Cronk said.
In addition, Gierlus would threaten to not prescribe drugs to his female patients if they didn't offer him sex, Cronk said. Evidence showed he also would block the door out of his office if a patient refused sex.
Lang said that by suggesting the highest possible fine, Cronk was not just punishing Gierlus but his family as well.
"This family has been deprived of an awful lot already," Lang said.
To make his case for a lower fine, Lang cited U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration statistics regarding drug cases against doctors, saying of 166 prosecutions nationwide only one case resulted in a fine near $500,000 and 89 percent of fines were below $10,000.
The judge ordered Gierlus to pay $400,000, due immediately.
Gierlus read aloud from a prepared statement, saying he accepts responsibility.
"My family is quite devastated by all that's been done," Gierlus said. "I leave behind Kathy to battle cancer without me."
Outside the courthouse, Kathy Gierlus and the couple's children declined to comment.
Gierlus was also sentenced to five years of supervised release upon his release from prison, meaning he cannot practice medicine and he's not allowed contact with any of the victims.
A doctor of osteopathic medicine, Gierlus had a family practice for years at Trinity Muscatine Clinic. He was licensed to practice in Iowa on July 15, 1987. His license was set to expire March 1.
As part of his medical practice, he saw and treated patients for various ailments including complaints of pain, according to his plea agreement.