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Doctor charged with sexual assault

By Cory Shaffer • Updated Oct 3, 2017 at 1:38 PM

CLEVELAND (TNS) — A woman who has accused a Westlake podiatrist of sexually harassing and groping her testified Monday that she came forward to prevent future abuse.

Anthony Polito's lawyers said the 23-year-old woman and an attorney who is a friend of her family cooked up the allegations as a failed attempt to extort Polito.

The comments came Monday during the first day of Polito's trial where he faces three counts each of kidnapping and gross sexual imposition, as well as one count of public indecency.

The 54-year-old foot doctor faces up to 33 years in prison if he is convicted of all charges.

Polito waived his right to have a jury hear the case and instead, Common Pleas Judge Shannon Gallagher will decide whether he is guilty or not guilty. Testimony is expected to last through Wednesday.

Abuse begins

The woman took a job as a medical assistant at Polito's office in May 2015 despite having no experience, in part because her mother nannied for Polito's girlfriend.

The abuse started in July of that year when Polito made several sexual remarks, according to her testimony. He peppered her with questions about her sex life with her boyfriend, and he asked if she wanted to have sex in his office, she said. She refused, noting that she had a boyfriend and that the doctor had a girlfriend. Polito said that no one would have to find out, she testified.

Then, in August and September of 2015, Polito grabbed her breast, she said. Each time he groped her, Polito asked her to have sex, she said. She continued to refuse. Polito backed off and the comments would end for a few weeks, she testified.

She stopped working Fridays or tried to avoid being alone with Polito. She took a shift on Friday, Feb. 26, 2016, after she checked the schedule and saw Polito was scheduled to perform a surgical procedure during her shift.

Polito hid in the office for 10 minutes and appeared when he heard the door close, she testified. He met her in the hallway, grabbed her by the arm and asked again if she wanted to have sex, she said. She continued to refused and pulled away. She went to her desk to gather her belongings, and Polito followed her.

He stretched out the waist of his pants and pulled out his penis, she said.

She turned her head away, gathered up her things and left. She clocked out of the office computer system, but testified that she could not remember when she did that.

She told her best friend and a coworker what happened that day. She told her mother later in the weekend. She wrote a resignation letter a month later and sent it to all three doctors in the office.

"I felt like they should know the kind of person they were working with," she testified. "He wasn't what they thought he was."

She went to the police station several times and sat in the parking lot in her car, only to drive away without giving a statement. She worked up the nerve to give a statement, but went to police station in the city she lived in, not Westlake, where the office is located.

She finally gave a statement to Westlake police investigators in April.

She said she avoided telling her mother about the abuse because she didn't want to jeopardize her mother's job as nanny for Polito's girlfriend.

Holes in the story

Polito's attorney Kevin Spellacy peppered the woman with questions for over two hours. He produced text messages the woman sent to Polito wondering why her hours were cut from 40 hours to 36 hours a week, and also noting that her best friend was willing to take an open position in Polito's office

Spellacy asked her why she would want to work more hours and offer to bring her best friend into such a "caustic" environment.

She responded to Spellacy that she was getting ready to move out of her parents' house and needed money, and that she was just trying to help her friend get a job.

The woman also struggled to pinpoint the exact days of the first two incidents. She also stumbled when asked what she told police.

Spellacy started to ask the woman detailed questions — which doctors were present on the days she said Polito had assaulted her, and then which days those doctors worked — to narrow down which days in August and September she said the attacks happened.

At one point, Spellacy stopped and asked if anyone, including police, had ever asked her those questions before. She said no one had.

The woman testified that she told her best friend about Polito's abuse in September of 2015, well before the February 2016 incident that led to her resignation and filing charges. But the friend took the stand after her and said she didn't learn of the abuse until the final encounter.

A "failed money-grab" and a counterclaim threat

Spellacy insisted that the accusations against Polito were the result of "a failed money grab by an attorney and an opportunist."

Once the woman told her mother what happened to her, her mother contacted attorney and family friend T.J. Murray instead of going to police.

The mother said that her daughter wanted to go to police on her own terms, and that she reached out to Murray because she was shocked and didn't know how to handle the situation. She said they did not pay Murray to act on their behalf and signed no contract with him.

But Murray sent a letter to Polito's brother, Michael Polito, saying that the woman's family was deciding whether to pursue a civil lawsuit against Polito or report the sexual assault to authorities, Spellacy said.

Both of the woman and her mother said they did not authorize Murray to send the letter or talk to him about a civil case.

Michael Polito is a Cleveland-based attorney and responded to Murray's letter by demanding that both the woman and her mother not discuss their allegations against Polito. If they continued, Polito would file a counterclaim against them accusing them of slander, the letter said.

Polito has not filed that counterclaim. But two of his other brothers, who are also attorneys, sat in the back of the courtroom taking notes and passing them to Spellacy throughout the trial.

The woman said during cross-examination that Murray edited her resignation letter, and that she sent it to all three of the doctors in Polito's office to put them on notice that they could be named in a civil suit.

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