Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Citizen Whistleblower Does the Right Thing—From 3,000 Miles Away

Dr. William Ayres (with a woman who declined to give her name) at a court appearance in 2007 (Associated Press photo)

Everyone has experienced it—you see or hear about a blatant crime and you think or say aloud, “Someone should do something about that!” The crime can be as simple as a reckless driver weaving in and out of traffic (“Where is the highway patrol when you need them? But if I pick up the cell phone while the car is moving, and I get caught, I’ll get a ticket!”), to an acquaintance bragging about how he’s not paid income taxes in 10 years (“I’m scrimping to pay my taxes and this fool is getting away with not paying! Not fair! But what can I do to not bring attention to myself?”)

Most of the time we shrug it off and assume, “Oh well, he/she will get caught eventually.”

But in 2005, journalist and human rights activist Victoria Balfour made the decision not to turn away and wait for someone else to initiate justice. A chance encounter with an unemployed photo researcher in 2002 was the beginning of Balfour’s involvement with a child molestation case on the other side of the United States—a case (unfortunately) 40 years in the making.

During an innocent conversation between the New York-based Balfour and her friend "Steve," who’d contacted Balfour through a mutual friend looking for advice on how to start a freelance writing career, Steve asked Balfour what kind of writing she had done in the past. A former feature writer for publications such as People and Ladies’ Home Journal, Balfour had recently begun to specialize in personal reflection essays, and mentioned a piece she’d done about her grandmother’s eating disorder that had been published in Vogue. In the article Balfour mentioned that she’d been molested as a child, and she told Steve how enraged her parents were that she’d mentioned that in the piece.

Steve blurted out that he’d been molested too—at the age of 12, by a child psychiatrist in San Mateo, California.

After a few conversations, Balfour was able to coax much of the horrific story out of the man. Steve was a patient of Dr. William Ayres for five years as a teen, though he’d managed to blank out much of that time period. He wasn’t able to wipe out the specific memory of the details of his abuse—and neither he nor Balfour then knew it was a pattern of abuse starting in 1966 with possibly hundreds of troubled teenage boys.

Steve stated as part of his therapy, Ayres asked him if he masturbated. The boy answered that he did, and Ayres then asked if he ever got “sore” from it. The good doctor then produced a bottle of lotion he claimed would help with the soreness, and proceeded to stimulate the boy to ejaculation, all the while assuring him that this was a normal part of therapy.

Balfour listened to Steve, and finally encouraged him to report the crime to San Mateo police, which he did in September 2002. This was not the first time the authorities had heard accusations against Ayres—the first known complaint against the child psychiatrist was filed in 1987. San Mateo police investigated that claim (the molestation occurred in 1985), deemed it unfounded, and it was never reported to prosecutors. Evidence from that complaint, including the police file and a check from Ayres for $1000 sent to the boy’s mother as an “accounting error” was reported missing in 2005.

A pair of complaints were received in 1994, with one victim filing his complaint with the state medical board and the second, an inmate in Folsom Prison, telling a nurse he’d been molested by Ayres during court-ordered sessions. The person filing the medical board complaint claimed he’d been abused in 1966, but board investigators have been unable to locate the man. The Folsom inmate has refused to cooperate with investigators.

San Mateo police were taking Steve’s complaint seriously, but the investigation came to an abrupt halt when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a California state law that had retroactively extended the statute of limitations for child molestation cases.

Steve then sought relief in civil court, and received a settlement of $395,000 from Ayres in 2005. Still trying to find a way to stay in control, Ayres tried to influence the selection of a trustee for the funds and wanted an annual report on how the money was spent—claiming he wanted the money used on treatment and not however the family wished to spend it. The court denied Ayres’ demands.

During the civil case, Balfour continued to act as an investigator, pursuing leads using tools learned as a journalist, including posting messages on various boards. By 2005 she’d located 15 possible victims of Ayres, and began to push the San Mateo County authorities to take action.

In the fall of 2005, one alleged victim contacted Balfour by e-mail and wrote: “I’m not strong enough to pursue anything. It makes me very depressed. The (San Mateo) police, courts, city officials will never tell the truth. It will make them look bad. No way will they do that for me.” Two weeks later he was dead, killed in a motorcycle crash.

Balfour went into overdrive, e-mailing San Mateo Police Captain Mike Callagy, asking that they find a way to locate new possible victims of Ayres, who was no longer receiving San Mateo County Juvenile Court referrals (but only since December 2003!). Balfour turned over her list of possible victims, along with contact information and dates of alleged molestation, which detailed a pattern of abuse inflicted upon vulnerable teenage boys.

A few days after she turned over the information, Captain Callagy e-mailed Balfour and wrote, “I know the amount of work that you put (into) this has been unbelievable. I am personally going to write the search warrant.”

In March 2006, police served a search warrant on Ayres’ home and a storage locker, seizing a total of 800 patient records. Ayres was arrested because of evidence of abuse on three boys within the statute of the law. Following his arrest, Ayres was charged with molesting four additional boys.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle , after charges against Ayres had been filed, more than a dozen former patients stepped forward with claims that they’d also been victims of abuse.

In an article in the SF Chronicle, Captain Callagy said of the pending court case: “What is most important is that these victims came forward. I don’t know if the victims would have come forward without her (Balfour’s) encouragement.”

The criminal case against Dr. William Ayres, now 77 years of age, was filed in April 2007. On August 7, 2007, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Jonathan Karesh ruled that there is probable cause to believe that Ayres molested seven male patients between the ages of 8 and 13, between the years of 1988 and 1996.

Deputy District Attorney Melissa McKowan presented evidence of abuse on 22 former patients of Ayres via testimony of police officers who had questioned the men.

As of August 2007, more than three dozen men have publicly accused Ayres of molestation, but California law now required that those charges be brought before the accuser turns 29 years of age (if it occurred after January 1, 1988). If the crime happened before 1988, it has to be prosecuted within eight years.

Ayres’ defense attorney—a name we know well at T & T—Doron Weinberg questions the reliability and credibility of the witnesses, one of whom is serving time at San Quentin. Weinberg has successfully deployed the delay delay delay tactic in this case, and has recently petitioned the court—and received—yet another delay. The trial was to commence on May 11, but because Weinberg is “busy” with the sentencing of Phil Spector, the start date for Ayers’ trial was moved yet again to June 1, when a group of fine citizens of San Mateo County will show up for jury duty.

And yes, Victoria Balfour plans to spend her summer in Northern California, as a witness to the proceedings, and an advocate for those who did not think justice was possible.

More to come, including additional background on the case and closer look at the career of Dr. William Ayres. T & T will likely have a blogger in place for opening and closing arguments, and also plans to post regular reports on this case from San Mateo Superior Court in Redwood City.

Retired child psychiatrist facing molest charges was never far from controversy

Case against psychiatrist took years to assemble: Writer and advocate for alleged victims pushed molest probe

Retired child psychiatrist must stand trial: Judge rules there is probable cause in molest allegations


Anonymous said...

Well reported. Victims had been coming forward since 1966- even to Dr. Ayres' partners, who declined to report Ayres to authorities.

The Ayres case is believed to be one of the biggest cases of child abuse in the history of San Mateo County.

"Dr" Ayres should have been stopped years ago, before he was elected to President of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Anonymous said...

That woman with Dr. Ayres is not his wife. She is Thea Leavitt, wife of pediatrician Dr. Sam Leavitt, who was aware for years that Dr. Ayres was undressing boys. One father of a victim asked Dr. Leavitt if it was normal for Ayres to be making his son strip and showing him anatomical drawings. Leavitt just changed the subject..

Anonymous said...

Here is an excellent and well-written blog by a victim of Dr. Ayres:

Anonymous said...

If people were as lawsuit-happy 20 yrs ago as they are today, this would have been exposed long ago.

It's not so uncommon for same-sex pedophiles to be anchored in hetero backgrounds and spouses and such, which makes it all the more difficult to believe---at least by the people who claim to "know" him the best.

I wonder how many prosecution witness (victims) Mr. Weinberg will have to cross-examine.

Anonymous said...

Many of the victims who are not within statute will testify. There are about 33 men to choose from.

We hear that the prosecution expects the case to last TWO MONTHS because Whineberg is expected to drag in all sorts of "experts" who will discount the victims' testimony.

Yeah, whatever, Doron. And how the heck is Ayres going to pay for all of this? He's not Phil Spector.

caroleigh said...

Your report on the doctor Ayeres case was concise, I had bits and pieces of it down here in Mississippi, but not the whole thing.
Great report!
Here we go with Weinberg again.
I'll bet he's delayed the case cause he's out looking for '' expert witnesses'' what a joke. Especially knowing California is broke! Or is this doctor wealthy enough to buy testimony like Specter!
Looking forward to following this case, good report
Carol in Mississippi

donchais said...

Great reporting as always CaliGirl

Anonymous said...

A lawyer I know who is an expert on pedophiles in the Jewish community predicts that Ayres is going to plea.

Anonymous said...

Ms.Balfour deserves a medal for what she has done - providing validation to all those young men that a)what was done to them was wrong, and b)that someone will listen to them and believe them.

My prayers are with the victims. The reprocussions of male pedophilia are deep and long lasting.

Anonymous said...

Both Vicki and David are heroes for exposing this dangerous predator.

David Clohessy
National Director, SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
7234 Arsenal Street
St. Louis MO 63143
314 566 9790 cell, 314 645 5915

Bonnie Russell said... reports on these types of cases, and fake therapists, too.

Below from the site.

LAUSD Psychologist Accused Of Molestation

A psychologist who counseled Los Angeles Unified School District students allegedly molested a boy in Boulder, Colo., over a seven-year period starting in 1978, according to media reports.

A lawyer for Peter J. Ruthenbeck, 47, of Huntington Beach, said his client was cooperating with an investigation by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, the agency that licenses educational psychologists.

The allegations against Ruthenbeck were brought forward after his alleged victim, now 35, told his mother what had happened to him.

Ruthenbeck was 19 when he was assigned to the boy, who was 8, as part of a Big Brother program. The molestation allegedly started shortly thereafter.

Ruthenbeck became his Little League and soccer coaches, then leader of his Boy Scout troop over the next seven years, according to media reports.

Paula Morgan Johnson reportedly confronted Ruthenbeck in a phone call, then provided copies of a three-page apology allegedly from Ruthenbeck to the state board and the Los Angeles Times.

"I am so, so very sorry," the unsigned letter says. "Whenever I think about that period in my life, I wonder what was wrong with me."

Ruthenbeck's attorney, B. Robert Farzad, said his client would neither confirm nor deny that he molested the boy or wrote the letter.

Ruthenbeck was suspended immediately when Eileen Skone-Rees, an administrative coordinator of the school district's Nonpublic Services Department received a complaint from Morgan Johnson, pending an investigation.

According to the district, Ruthenbeck worked an average of three days a week, providing one-on-one or small group counseling to deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

A bill for services Ruthenbeck submitted to the district in June showed that he worked at Gardena and Fairfax high schools, Carnegie Middle School in Carson, and El Sereno Middle School and Robert Hill Lane Elementary School in Monterey Park.

Ruthenbeck, who is married and has two children, left Coloradio in 1985 and until recently he was president of the California Association of Licensed Educational Psychologists.

He has worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District for at least 12 years. His current contract for the 2005-06 school year allowed him to bill the district for up to $212,000 depending on his client load.


Turns out kids are themselves, are used as victims, *and* a huge marketing opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Interesting reporting on a case with a parallel to Spector: in that he is very well to do and thus people are willing to turn a blind eye to his misdeeds. Then of course the obvious parallel is his defense attorney Weinberg.

Granted someone has to defend even the patently guilty, but there are limits to ethics. One hopes that Weinberg will try to put on a case more worthy of the textbooks this time.

shari said...

WOW>>>>>>>>> I had no idea "PIGS" could walk on two legs! Amazing

katfish said...

Anon 8:35- I hope your lawyer friend is long as there is jail-time included.
I don't imagine these victims are looking forward to testifying. If they are, I take back what I said about the plea. Any jail-time beyond a few years will likely be a "life sentence".
He will burn in hell! Even Doron Weinberg can't change that.
Thanks for the great report Caligirl!

Anonymous said...

What a pervert. Hope they lock him up with Spector.

Unknown said...

I applaud Ms. Balfour's decision to pursue justice for all of Dr. Ayres' victims. He has ruined many, many lives. In fact, it's not possible to gauge the extent of damage he has inflicted because many of his victims are likely alcoholics or abusers of illicit substances and don't have the wherewithal to be able to contact the authorities, complete the requisite forms. And some of his victims are probably dead (undoubtedly by suicide).

Frankly, it is unconscionable that the sytem protected this sicko.

I hope he enjoys his time in prison.

ritanita said...

Thank you, CaliGirl for this post. The responses here are so eloquent that I know you have touched on a very important subject. We all need to keep track of this case and others who abuse children.

Anonymous said...

From 1993-95, Dr. Ayres was the President of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

He also had one of the first ever sex education television programs for little children, on PBS in the 1960s. It ignited a huge storm of controversy because what many believed to be its excessively graphic content and its overemphasis on masturbation.

CaliGirl9 said...

Anon 5:32, Ayres may well end up with 'ol Harv. Being an elderly inmate from Northern California, the logical place for him is CMF in Vacaville.

There is an "old inmates home" in one of the SoCal facilities but I don't remember which one.

Thank you everyone for your comments. I guess there is plenty of interest in this case which makes it worth it for me to attend some of the proceedings this summer. It will be an hour drive for me (morning traffic up Hwy 101, ick!), with no decent public transit available between my county of residence and San Mateo County ... maybe Caltrain?

CaliGirl9 said...

Geez, it’s an epidemic in San Mateo County …

Judge sentences San Mateo man to 29 years to life for molesting 2 niecesA judge on Thursday sentenced a San Mateo man convicted of molesting his two young nieces to 29 years to life in prison after the man's attorney reportedly declared himself incompetent in open court.In February, a jury found 36-year-old Isaias Talavera Vargas guilty of molesting his 11-year-old and 13-year-old nieces multiple times, including during a period when the younger victim was wearing a back brace, San Mateo County Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said Thursday. The molestation lasted more than two years, he added.

Wagstaffe described the sentence as "very much warranted," adding, "He is a sexual predator in our book."

Talavera Vargas' attorney, James Swanseen, told San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Norman Gatzert Thursday he hadn't prepared for the sentencing and needed more time, Wagstaffe said. But Gatzert denied his motion to continue.

Swanseen "told the judge on the record, 'I'm not competent. What you're doing today is unfair and wrong,'" Wagstaffe said.

Before the trial, prosecutors offered Talavera Vargas just eight years in prison if he pleaded guilty to molesting the two girls, Wagstaffe said. The defendant rejected that deal.

"He decided he didn't want to plead to anything, and he's now facing a life sentence for it," Wagstaffe said. "We'll make pretrial offers as a basis of saving the victims from having to go through testifying."

Swanseen couldn't be reached for comment Thursday. State bar records indicate he is currently an active member but was disciplined and suspended in 2007, in part because of failure to appear at hearings in a criminal case.

Chris Morales, Talavera Vargas' trial attorney, said his client maintained his innocence throughout the case.

"His story was consistent from before he was arrested to his trial," Morales said. "He said he was innocent and didn't do anything wrong and that the girls had misinterpreted his playfulness."

Anonymous said...

The Caltrain stop in Redwood City is only a block or two from the courthouse. Same courthouse where Scott Peterson trial was held.

Anonymous said...

For the hundreds of victims who have yet to come forward, there's still time.

Contact prosecutor Melissa McKowan:

or Detective Rick Decker:

Anonymous said...

We encourage those who live in the SF/Bay Area to show their support for the Ayres victims by attending the trial.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Tony Shiu in Dublin, California just pled guilty to drugging and raping men and taking pictures of his young patients when they were nude and unconscious.

Let us hope "Dr." William Ayres pleads as well. Somehow, we can't see Ayres sitting through the graphic testimony of his forty victims. Though it would be nice to see him squirm.

Anonymous said...

Trial is still on for Monday June 1.

Anonymous said...

Pre-trial motions in the first week of June, followed by two weeks of jury selection. Some predict a plea deal.

Anonymous said...

Whineberg kicked Victoria Balfour out of the courtroom yesterday during pre-trial motions because he said she might be called as a witness for the defense. He has not subpoenaed her and has offered no evidence to support the claim that he will be calling her. Some observers believe it was just a classic Whineberg move to punish Balfour for her actions in this case. Won't work...

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