A renowned pediatrician and bestselling author who served for 14 years as chief of ambulatory pediatrics at Children's Hospital Boston is accused of sexually abusing at least seven boys in his care, according to a civil lawsuit filed in Suffolk Superior Court yesterday.
The lawsuit, filed by an unnamed plaintiff who was 8 years old when the alleged abuse began, said Dr. Melvin D. Levine "sexually assaulted, battered, and abused" him between 1980 and 1985.
"Levine, during his treatment sessions, under the guise of performing repeated but unnecessary physical examinations, sexually assaulted John No. 5, including numerous acts of genital fondling, masturbation, and other attempted and threatened acts of assault," the lawsuit asserts.
In a faxed statement, Levine's lawyer, Edward Mahoney of Boston, said the doctor is innocent.
"Dr. Mel Levine has provided pediatric care to more than 15,000 children over 40 years and categorically denies that he has ever been abusive in any way toward any patient," said Mahoney, who questioned the motives of the lawyer filing the suit. "He adamantly denies these claims. Dr. Levine is distressed about the distorted or misinterpreted memories from decades past and questions the motivations."
Levine, 68, who has appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to promote his books, did not return messages left at his home in Rougement, N.C., where he moved after leaving Children's Hospital.
In a separate statement, officials at Children's Hospital said Levine worked there between 1971 and 1985, specializing in children with developmental and educational issues. "This work led to Dr. Levine developing a national reputation as an expert in these fields," the statement said.
Children's Hospital is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The hospital's statement said it "never had any complaint from any patient or parent of any patient suggesting inappropriate conduct of any nature by Dr. Levine."
It added: "Children's Hospital's most important goal is to protect children's health and promote their well-being. Our staff is trained and experienced in detecting abuse and mistreatment of children. Such behavior, if identified, is treated with the utmost seriousness and addressed immediately."
Levine, who trained as a resident at the hospital in 1965, is now a professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina Medical School in Chapel Hill. University officials did not return calls.
He is the author of at least six books, including "A Mind At A Time," which was a
He studied at Brown University, was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England, graduated from Harvard Medical School, and received the C. Anderson Aldrich Award for outstanding contribution to the field of child development in 1995, according to a biography on the All Kinds of Minds website.
"Dr. Levine's groundbreaking framework for understanding why children struggle in school provides a straightforward, practical system for recognizing variations in the way children learn and use their strengths to help them become more successful students," according to the biography.
The lawsuit filed yesterday was not the first against Levine alleging abuse. A federal suit filed in 1988 asserted that between 1978 and 1984 Levine conducted "improper and repeated examinations of the plaintiff's testicles out of the presence of the plaintiff's parents." The lawsuit was dismissed.
In 1993, the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine received a complaint from a former patient of Levine's who said the doctor had fondled his penis and asked him repeatedly about whether he was having wet dreams. That charge was also dismissed.
"The significance of this case is that now we have evidence of seven complaints of sexual abuse over a 17-year period and multiple instances for the people who were abused," said Carmen L. Durso, who is representing five of the alleged victims and held a press conference yesterday at his Boston office. "We need to find out if there are more people and whether they will support the allegations of these people, and we need to find out what Children's Hospital's role was. We don't have answers as to why Levine was able to do this with such ease."
The other alleged victims said Levine abused them when he worked in Boston, when they ranged in age from 5 to 13.
The complaint did not provide details of the abuse alleged in those cases or answer why they waited so long to come forward.
The plaintiff who filed the lawsuit "was unable to recall and to understand" the abuse until February 2006, the complaint said. It says he has been in therapy since.
Durso did not specify the damages his clients are seeking.