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A disgraced military doctor who admitted to sexually abused three patients at a West Virginia medical center may move to appeal the lengthy prison sentence handed to him in federal court this week, according to his lawyer.
Jonathan Yates, 52, pleaded guilty in September to three felony counts of deprivation of rights under color of law after molesting a trio of military veteran patients in 2019. U.S. District Judge Frank W. Volk sentenced him to 25 years on Monday.
The former physician’s legal team, however, is eying an appeal in his case.
“We are disappointed that the court departed upward from the recommended guideline sentence,” defense attorney Morgan Ward told Oxygen.com on Wednesday.
Federal sentencing guidelines recommended Yates spend a maximum of 17 years and five months in prison for his crimes. Ward said that the judge had been swayed by the victims' testimony to sentence Yates beyond what the guidelines recommend.
“A sentence within the recommended range would have been sufficient,” Ward explained. “Mr. Yates’ acceptance of responsibility, his age, and the many years he spent providing needed medical care in underserved areas were mitigating factors that should’ve been given more weight by the court.”
Prosecutors described Yates’ actions as a “despicable betrayal of his oath.”
“The sentence today reflects the seriousness of this defendant’s misconduct,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gregory B. Friel said in a statement. “He used his specialized medical knowledge and expertise to sexually abuse his own patients. He has now been held accountable.”
In March 2019, Yates was accused of sexually abusing several patients at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Beckley, West Virginia, according to a criminal complaint obtained by Oxygen.com.
The osteopath allegedly “rubbed the genitals” of two veterans and “digitally penetrated” a third victim’s rectum “under the guise of legitimate medicine,” prosecutors said. Yates, who targeted veteran patients experiencing chronic pain, “immobilized” his victims using acupuncture needles and varying chiropractic techniques.
In Feb. 2019, a 42-year-old veteran who was experiencing back pain sought out Yates for a massage therapy referral. Instead, Yates grabbed the patient’s nipples, yanked his chest hair, and called him a “real man,” in the examination room, the complaint alleged. He later pulled the man’s underwear down and fondled his genitals with an “ungloved hand.”
“Boxer briefs — my favorite,” Yates allegedly remarked after forcibly undressing the man. “Keeps everything tight and in place.”
Yates later became “irritated” and “smacked” the patient’s buttocks, the victim told investigators. He then cracked the veteran’s neck, temporarily paralyzing him, then stripped the patient’s underwear and molested him, according to the complaint.
“The pain was excruciating,” the man described in a court exhibit. “I felt it all over my body.”
The victim told detectives he quickly left the exam room, drove to a gas station, and cleaned himself using “multiple sanitary wipes” in the restroom.
“I felt dirty after that encounter,” he added.
Yates also “popped” the neck of a different patient, pulled his pants down “without warning,” and commented on a tattoo of a Hershey's Kisses chocolate on the man’s buttocks.
“Oh, kisses are my favorite,” Yates told the veteran, according to a separate witness statement obtained by Oxygen.com. “I would like to take a bite of a kiss right now.”
Yates sexually assaulted another patient after plunging several acupuncture needles into the man’s back, incapacitating him.
“I knew at this point I would not be able to defend myself [if] he did not stop because of the acupuncture needles in my back,” the victim recalled. “I honestly was afraid that I might be raped at this point.”
The doctor also told the veteran, who is a church minister in West Virginia, that he’d been sexually abused as a child.
Yates also told some of his fellow doctors that he’d caused some of his patients to ejaculate during medical visits.
“I’m not able to explore the things I’d like to with some of the guys because I’m a married man and my wife wouldn’t understand,” he told one physician, according to the complaint.
He surrendered his medical license as part of the plea agreement, court documents show.
“Yates committed hideous crimes in a hospital room, which should be a sanctuary for patients,” FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Michael Christman said. “The facts of this case are disgusting and these patients and their families deserved better care. While today’s sentence won’t take away what happened to these patients, who dedicated their lives in service to our nation, Yates will never be able to hurt anyone again.”
Yates's legal team said they plan to move on a sentence appeal in the coming weeks.
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