In the highly sensitive world of abortion providers, Dr. Brian Finkel was anything but circumspect. He called himself the Prince of the Pelvis and referred to his Phoenix clinic as the Vaginal Vault. An extroverted character who often appeared on local and national TV, he took to wearing a flak jacket and carrying a Colt .45, and in the late 1990s his name turned up on a radical antiabortion group’s Internet hit list. His office was decorated with nude art. In short, he was the kind of guy Howard Stern might admire. In June 2000, in fact, Stern had Finkel on his show, calling him “brave” for his stance on abortion.
Now some are calling him a sexual predator. On Jan. 2 Finkel, 54, was sentenced to nearly 35 years in prison after he was convicted—on 22 counts—of sexually abusing 13 patients by groping and inappropriately touching women’s breasts and genitals during exams. Finkel, who plans to appeal, told the court that his patients misunderstood his intentions. “I’m not a touchy-feely compassionate guy,” he said. “Perhaps I didn’t have the bedside manner…they expected.” But the jury didn’t buy it, nor did Arizona superior court Judge Jeffrey Cates, who told Finkel the conviction “was not because of your demeanor but because you committed the crimes.”
The doctor’s undoing began in September 2001 when a divorced mother named Kathe Kalmansohn told a Phoenix newspaper that after undergoing an abortion in Finkel’s clinic she had woken up from sedation to find the doctor lying against her with his hands on her breasts. In the weeks and months that followed, more than 100 women reported similar allegations against Finkel to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which charged him with more than 60 counts of sexual misconduct involving 35 different women. (He was acquitted of seven counts of sexual assault and 27 more of sexual abuse. Seven other counts were dismissed before or during the trial, and four resulted in a hung jury.)
Of the four charges relating to Kalmansohn, two resulted in a hung jury and two in not guilty verdicts. But Finkel’s conviction on the other counts brought considerable relief to women like Kelly Easter, 25, who had gone to Finkel for a simple birth-control injection in 1998. She says he repeatedly touched her “totally like a boyfriend would” and asked her what it felt like. “I was just in shock,” Easter says. Though the encounter—her first visit to a male gynecologist—left her in tears, she never reported the incident until she heard news of the allegations against Finkel, who was eventually found guilty of rubbing her clitoris. When she first heard she wasn’t the only victim, “I was happy, sad, terrified,” she says. Now, she notes, “I feel better about myself knowing I did the right thing.”
So does Rise Mayolette McEndree, 39, who was shocked when Finkel showed her a gun and his bulletproof vest just before her 1997 abortion, then abruptly asked why she wasn’t married. She was even more dismayed when she felt him touch her clitoris during the pelvic exam. “I raised up on my elbows and said, ‘What’s going on?’ ” she says. Now a grandmother and homemaker, McEndree had kept the abortion a private matter until she heard about the other allegations against Finkel, who was convicted of inappropriately brushing her genitals. “I think he took advantage of an emotional moment in people’s lives when you are hugely vulnerable,” she says.
One burning question is how the doctor was able to commit his crimes over so many years without being caught. As Finkel told PEOPLE in a statement last March, he had strict protocols requiring a female assistant to be present anytime he was with a patient in an examination room. “I did everything possible to protect myself and my staff from false allegations such as these,” he said, adding that though many may have resented his manner, “any patient was free to leave at any time for any reason. None of these patients did.”
Perhaps. But in the Phoenix courtroom, witness after witness, who did not know one another, testified to the same violations. Though Finkel’s lawyer describes his client as “pretty stoic,” Finkel’s wife of 31 years, Diana, calls the verdict the result of a “media lynching” that poisoned the jury pool. “We’re financially ruined,” Diana, who has a grown son and daughter with Finkel, tells PEOPLE. “We had to close the business.” With no possibility of parole until Finkel turns 83, the Vaginal Vault is unlikely to reopen—much to the relief of Finkel’s victims. “He’s going to prison,” says Easter, “and that’s all I wanted—that he wasn’t going to hurt anyone else.”
Thomas Fields-Meyer. Strawberry Saroyan and Melissa Morrison in Phoenix