A doctor with offices in Frederick and Urbana lost his medical license after nine female employees and one patient accused him of sexual harassment, assault and propositioning over the course of 10-plus years.
The Maryland Board of Physicians summarily suspended John Vitarello Jr.'s license to practice medicine Dec. 29. In a hearing Jan. 13, a disciplinary panel upheld that decision. His medical license was issued in 1982. At the time of the accusations, he was the co-founder and CEO of a cardiovascular practice with four locations, according to the board.
Natasha Wesker, an attorney representing Vitarello, said an appeal was filed Friday.
Vitarello "vehemently denies" the allegations and has an "unblemished career" of 40 years, an emailed statement from his legal counsel said. He is concerned with the board's investigation, calling it "flawed, biased" and in violation of due process, the statement reads.
The charges Vitarello faces are under the Maryland Medical Practice Act, which the Maryland Board of Physicians enforces. The board charged him with violating provisions of the act, including immoral or unprofessional conduct in the practice of medicine.
Board investigators conducted "under-oath" interviews with 14 current and former staff, plus one patient, according to documents publicly available on the board's website. The investigation was spurred by a complaint of sexual assault made in April 2020.
Women described a range of allegations. They told investigators Vitarello groped them, caused one woman to fear for her life, threatened to fire one woman if she spoke up, and made victims fearful of being fired. He reportedly called female staff nicknames like "baby" and commented on their appearances.
When some women did report him to higher-ups, they later lost their jobs, according to the investigation. One woman called his alleged advances "relentless."
Investigators suggested a reason Vitarello got away with the behavior for so long was due to the control and influence he had over the practice and senior-level personnel. The practice's legal counsel also told a female employee to not share her experience, and an administrator said to another woman, "keep your mouth shut and stay away from him," after she reported Vitarello, documents show.
Vitarello allegedly asked the same employee to stay late to discuss a work-related matter, but he then showed up alone with wine. He hugged her and told her to keep their meeting a secret, investigators wrote. He reportedly offered her money.
When Vitarello learned the woman discussed an alleged inappropriate exam room encounter with another employee, suggesting she might contact an attorney, he allegedly told her there would be "hell to pay." Vitarello searched for her in the office in a way that made her fear for her life, so she hid until other staff helped her leave, investigators wrote. Another employee allegedly saw the woman crying and hyperventilating in the office while an "infuriated" Vitarello looked for her.
A patient treated by Vitarello some years ago told investigators he locked the door during an appointment and said he'd be at her house later for "sexual therapy," then hugged and tried to kiss her as she left the office, investigators said.
In another alleged incident, when a woman met Vitarello at a business networking event, he later met with her privately and discussed employment opportunities. During an appointment with her as a patient, he allegedly kissed and groped her. When she rejected his advances, investigators said he stopped discussing business opportunities with her.
Another employee reported Vitarello's sexual misconduct toward her to senior staff on multiple occasions, investigators wrote. The practice's legal counsel allegedly told her not to discuss this with anyone. About a month later, she reportedly took leave for medical conditions caused by Vitarello's behavior. Shortly after, she was fired for turning her medical paperwork in late, investigators wrote.
The allegations were detailed in a 15-page document. Vitarello's attorneys say they will proceed to a hearing to contest allegations and discredit the accusers. There were "crucial material eyewitnesses" the board declined to interview in its investigation, Vitarello said in his statement.
"The Board has issued allegations only, not adjudicated findings of facts," the statement reads. "There are multiple eyewitness that have stated under oath by affidavit, and will testify at an evidentiary hearing, that these allegations are false."
Vitarello for some time planned to retire at the end of 2020, his attorney said.