Ex-doctor gets 6½ years for explicit pics of 15-year-old

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A former physician who lost his medical license over a sex-for-pills case in 2002 has been sentenced to 6½ years in prison for trying to obtain explicit cellphone pictures of a 15-year-old girl.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab imposed the sentence that had been previously agreed upon by prosecutors and the defense attorney representing Robert Franzino at his guilty plea in November.

At that time, the 61-year-old former emergency room physician from Greensburg pleaded guilty to attempted possession of obscene visual depictions. That was a less serious charge than federal prosecutors originally filed in May, attempted coercion and enticement of a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity, which carries 10 years to life in prison.

“Obviously my action has had far-reaching devastation for my family,” Franzino told the judge. He has two adult children with his first wife and three teenage children with his current, common-law wife of 20 years. “How could I not be remorseful? I’ve made a major mistake and I recognize that.”

Franzino was arrested by state authorities in March on charges that he tried to set up a sexual encounter with the girl. Although Franzino sent the girl Facebook messages in September 2015, she didn’t see them until February 2016. The girl was a friend of one of Franzino’s teenage daughters, authorities said.

When the girl finally saw the messages offering a “win-win arrangement” in exchange for “mind altering pills,” she showed them to her father who contacted Greensburg police. A detective got permission to use the girl’s Facebook account then messaged Franzino in March, who requested a nude photo from the girl and offered her $50 for a sex act.

He was later arrested outside the girl’s home with his cellphone and $50.

Defense attorney Stan Levenson argued in a motion to dismiss the original, more serious, charge that the crime never would have been committed had the police not picked up the ball and run with it.

“The government’s creation of this crime is outrageous, intolerable and should not be sanctioned by this Court,” Levenson wrote. Although Schwab rejected the motion, prosecutors eventually agreed to let Franzino plead to the lesser offense to avoid the 10-year minimum sentence.

Levenson had also argued federal prosecutors purposely targeted Franzino because of his previous crimes, a claim prosecutors denied.

Franzino was working at Westmoreland Regional Hospital in Greensburg when he was charged in 2002 with prescribing painkillers to four women in return for sex or the expectation of sex.

Franzino received 10 years of probation after pleading guilty to related felony counts of insurance fraud and misdemeanor counts of violating the state’s pharmacy laws. He told the judge his actions were trigged by a major bout of depression.

Franzino surrendered his state medical license and the federal license that allowed him to prescribe medications and had since been working as a $165,000 a year medical expert for a law firm. He lost that job when he was arrested last year.