New Jersey state psychologist, under investigation for affair with patient, leaves state, gets license in Pennsylvania
July 1, 2010
A top state psychologist who oversaw therapy for hundreds of incarcerated sex offenders was fired for allegedly having a sexual affair with a patient, two lawyers involved in the case said.
The ongoing internal investigation centers on the relationship between Natalie Barone, the psychologist, and Michael Bordo, a sex offender, according to Bordo’s state-assigned lawyer, Mary Foy.
She said the sexual misconduct allegedly occurred when Barone was his therapist at one of two specialized institutions for sex offenders in Avenel.
Barone’s lawyer, Jack Furlong, denied she did anything wrong.
"I’ve yet to have anyone substantiate those allegations to what any fair-minded person would consider a standard of evidence," he said.
The internal investigation began last year when an off-duty corrections officer spotted Barone and Bordo taking a summertime stroll down a Jersey Shore boardwalk, according to three state officials with knowledge of the case.
The Department of Human Services would only say it dismissed Barone on April 30 for conduct unbecoming and violating policies on relationships with patients.
Barone has appealed her firing and requested an administrative hearing. She may face more sanctions, according to the attorney general’s office. Spokesman Paul Loriquet said her psychologist license is being reviewed and could be revoked by the State Board of Psychological Examiners. State rules prohibit psychologists from sexual relationships with patients within two years of therapy ending.
Barone was a top official within the state’s civil commitment program, which keeps sex offenders deemed particularly dangerous locked up after their prison sentences have been completed. While the Department of Corrections runs the facilities and provides security, Human Services provides treatment through psychologists such as Barone.
Bordo was civilly committed after serving a prison sentence for sexually assaulting two teenage girls. During his confinement in Avenel, he received one-on-one counseling from Barone, according to his former lawyer, Heather Ellis. Furlong would not comment on any therapy sessions.
Human Services did not publicly disclose Barone’s firing until facing inquiries from The Star-Ledger. Spokeswomen there declined to discuss the investigation in detail because it is an internal disciplinary matter. And little information is available on Bordo because civilly committed sex offenders are technically considered patients, not inmates.
Barone, 37, began her job as administrator of psychological services in 2002, the number two position in the civil commitment program’s therapeutic operations. That made her responsible for about 100 staff members providing treatment to New Jersey’s 426 civilly committed sex offenders, currently housed at two Avenel facilities called special treatment units. Her state salary was $92,422 a year.
By law, therapy is supposed to be an integral part of day-to-day confinement within the facilities. A special court determines whether sex offenders should be released by evaluating how far they have progressed in their therapy and how likely they are to commit a new sex crime.
Bordo, 33, took a very different path to Avenel. He was 19 years old when he was arrested in Cape May County for entering a bedroom being shared by two teenage girls he knew and sexually assaulting both, said Meghan Hoerner, an assistant prosecutor there. In 1996 he pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated criminal sexual contact and was sentenced to five years in prison.
As he neared the end of his sentence, New Jersey passed a new law allowing authorities to civilly commit sex offenders. Bordo was one of the first people in the state to be civilly committed, according to Ellis, his former lawyer.
In 2007, the court used to evaluate the sex offenders said Bordo should be released because he was no longer highly likely to commit a new sex crime, Ellis said. But she said facility officials recommended against the release, saying Bordo wasn’t ready.
"Because he was locked up so young, he didn’t have any life skills. He’s been raised in an institution," she said. "The goal was to get him prepared as much as they could."
The institution’s view of Bordo changed, she said, after he began one-on-one counseling with Barone in December 2008. Ellis, who represented dozens of sex offenders during her career at the public advocate’s office, said it was uncommon for any therapist to provide individual counseling at the facility, let alone one of the institution’s top people.
RELEASE AND RETURN
Bordo was released June 3, 2009, free for the first time in 13 years.
That summer an off-duty corrections officer working a security job on the side spotted Bordo with Barone on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, three officials said. An internal investigation was conducted by the Department of Human Services, spokeswoman Ellen Lovejoy said.
Furlong did not comment on whether Barone and Bordo were together on the boardwalk.
Around that time Bordo ran into trouble, records show. On Aug. 3 he was stopped for running a stop sign in Newark. Police said he was driving without a valid license and had marijuana in the car, according to records from Newark municipal court.
Bordo was returned to Avenel for violating his conditional discharge, which was contingent on him staying out of trouble with the law.
The records show all the Newark charges against Bordo were dismissed except for the $239 fine for driving without a valid license, which he paid on Nov. 12. Even though he had not committed a new sex crime, authorities successfully pushed to get him recommitted. He is now in Avenel for more treatment, said Foy, his lawyer who is an assistant deputy public advocate.
As the investigation continued, Barone was suspended without pay on Oct. 10, according to Human Services.
Furlong said Barone tried to resign but the department did not accept her resignation and pushed ahead with the termination proceedings. Lovejoy said the department addressed the matter appropriately. "The department takes action when a policy violation has been determined," she said.
Furlong would not say whether Barone and Bordo had an affair, saying he had "no comment on the rumor mill." He would not make her available for an interview.
Barone is currently planning a life beyond New Jersey and no longer lives or works in the state, Furlong said. She also withdrew from a private psychology practice in Somerville last year.
"The circumstances as they presented themselves last summer made it clear the state of New Jersey was no longer a hospitable place to work," Furlong said.
But she appears to still want to work in the same field. Two days before she was fired by the Department of Human Services she obtained a new license to practice psychology in Pennsylvania. Charles Young, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, said authorities will review Barone’s case. He would not say what action the state might take, but said if she loses her license in New Jersey, she might also lose it in Pennsylvania.
IF YOUR PSYCHOLOGIST, PSYCHIATRIST OR OTHER MENTAL HEALTH PRACTITIONER HAS ENGAGED IN ANY THREATENING, VIOLENT OR SEXUAL BEHAVIOR WITH YOU, REPORT IT TO THE POLICE AND TO CITIZENS COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, WHO CAN ASSIST YOU IN FILING REPORTS, COMPLAINTS, ETC. PLEASE CONTACT STEVE WAGNER, DIRECTOR OF LITIGATION AT firstname.lastname@example.org
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