The founder of a popular fertility clinic failed to tell authorities more than 15 years ago that one of his star specialists, Dr. Roger Ian Hardy, was allegedly seen inappropriately touching a patient, according to a complaint by state regulators.
Hardy continued to treat women and was accused this year of having sexually molested several other patients, some while they were under anesthesia.
The Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine charged that Dr. Vito Cardone, who opened the Fertility Centers of New England in 1993, was told by two employees that they saw Hardy put his hand on a patient’s breast and rub her nipple as she was waking from anesthesia.
Instead of informing the board as the law requires, the board said, Cardone sent the two staff members to the clinic’s manager, who warned one “not to cause a stink or blow a whistle because she would be labeled as a disgruntled worker.’’
When a nurse supervisor approached Cardone about the incident, he told her “Hardy was a good doctor,’’ the board alleged.
The charges against Cardone, who has since sold the clinic, are described in a “statement of allegations” approved by the board on July 9 and obtained by the Globe Wednesday through a public records request. Cardone and his attorney, Ellen E. Cohen of Boston, did not return calls seeking a response to the allegations.
The medical board’s charges against Cardone are the first known fallout from accusations against an owner or supervisor at the chain of nine clinics in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. Nurses who formerly worked at the Fertility Centers previously told investigators that they witnessed sexual misconduct by Hardy but felt they were working under a code of silence. Hardy, a reproductive endocrinologist who treated patients at the clinics for 20 years, resigned his medical license in January amid a board investigation.
Cardone sold the Fertility Centers in 2003 but worked there until 2006. He faces possible disciplinary action that could range from a reprimand to a suspension, according to the medical board’s complaint.
Cardone, 64, now runs Cardone & Associates, a fertility clinic in Stoneham. He has been licensed to practice medicine in Massachusetts since 1986 and is also licensed in New Hampshire. He is affiliated with Lawrence Memorial, Melrose-Wakefield, and Winchester hospitals and Northeast Hospital Corp.
Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney who has represented hundreds of victims sexually abused by Roman Catholic priests, said that in most cases of repeated molestation by an individual, supervisors failed to intervene. He represents a patient who said she was sexually abused by Hardy.
“Unfortunately we have seen a countless number of examples where supervisors are part of the cover-up,’’ he said.
The Fertility Centers is now owned by Dr. Joseph Hill. His attorney, Nicholas J. Di Mauro of Burlington, said Wednesday that his client was not aware of any sexual misconduct by Hardy, and learned about the allegations during the board’s investigation in January.
During the incident described in the allegations against Cardone, a nurse anesthetist and a surgical technician assisted Hardy in performing an egg retrieval on the patient sometime between 1994 and 1998. As the woman woke up, the nurse noticed Hardy rubbing her nipple. Shocked, she froze for several seconds before pushing her way between Hardy and the patient, according to a separate report from a board investigator that the Globe had previously obtained.
Cardone previously told board investigators that he approached the nurse who reportedly saw the incident, but she did not want to discuss it, according to the investigator’s report. Cardone said he asked Hardy about it, and “he said he was trying to comfort the patient.’’
In an interview with the Globe in April, Cardone said he heard rumors that Hardy rubbed a patient’s breast in the recovery room, but that he never got any “official reports’’ of misconduct about Hardy.
A staff member who complained allegedly was told ‘not to cause a stink or blow a whistle.’
The 22-page investigator’s report, based on interviews with 18 witnesses, described allegations of sexual misconduct against Hardy that go back to his college days and as recently as 2011. Hardy told board investigators he never engaged in any misconduct with patients or staff.
A patient first complained to the medical board about Hardy in 2004. The woman described trauma to her genitals that she said occurred while sedated for a procedure Hardy performed in December 2003 at the Hunt Center in Danvers, then part of Beverly Hospital. Hardy wrote a lengthy denial then, saying there were chaperones in the operating room, and the board declined to discipline him.
Then, last October, a physician filed a formal complaint with the medical board. That doctor, a reproductive specialist like Hardy, contacted the board because a longtime patient confided in her that Hardy had touched her sexually under the guise of examining her surgical incision at the clinic’s Reading office in 2011. During the visits, he allegedly told the patient that his touching was part of her fertility treatment. The new complaint led to an in-depth investigation.
The state Department of Public Health, which also has been investigating the clinic, said Wednesday that its inquiry is ongoing. Spokeswomen for the Middlesex and Essex district attorneys, who investigate and prosecute crimes in Reading and Danvers, said Wednesday that no criminal charges have been filed against Hardy.