Nina’s Story kicks off Domestic Violence Awareness Month here at Love. Life. Om. as part of our Survivor Story Series. Normally, all names and personal identifiers in the Survivor Story Series are removed and/or edited prior to story publication. However, I made an exception in this case and with her permission, published the survivor’s real name. LLO’s in-house interviewer, Stefanie, and I worked with Nina for several weeks to bring you this three-part interview. Nina eloquently details her experience inside a highly-toxic relationship with a doctor and active member of the U.S. military. Part 1 captures exactly what happened while in the relationship. This is a powerful narrative and one we hope instigates action from everyone who takes the time to read to the end.
Nina’s Story kicks off Domestic Violence Awareness Month here at Love. Life. Om. as part of our Survivor Story Series. Normally, all names and personal identifiers in the Survivor Story Series are removed and/or edited prior to story publication. However, I made an exception in this case and with her permission, published the survivor’s real name.
LLO’s in-house interviewer, Stefanie, and I worked with Nina for several weeks to bring you this three-part interview. Nina eloquently details her experience inside a highly-toxic relationship with a doctor and active member of the U.S. military. Part 1 captures exactly what happened while in the relationship.
This is a powerful narrative and one we hope instigates action from everyone who takes the time to read to the end.
Nina’s interview: Part 1 – What happened?
LLO: Nina, it sounds like you have a sensational story and when you initially shared it with us, you said you watched a movie some time ago called Deceived and you thought, “How awful that someone would be living a lie like that and have no idea they were living it.” Then, years later, you actually lived your own version of that movie. Can you kind of walk us through that and tell us what happened after you met the person who you feel turned your life into a lie? How did you meet him and what happened after that?
The movie was entitled Deceived.
I met him via Match.com in November 2012. He reached out to me with the most thoughtful and charming message, touching upon so many of the points and descriptions I noted in my profile. I was intrigued and thoroughly beguiled by his writing and the interest he took.
LLO: What felt so blissful and right about the relationship at first?
I separated from my husband in 2007, and in contrast to my marital relationship, this man presented as exceedingly attentive, loving, and profoundly interested in me. He was very focused on the fact he believed in love at first sight and what he called the incredibly strong and fated to be “indelible lines” between us.
Though overwhelmed by his attention, I was stricken by the coincidences we had in common:
- He attended the University of Scranton where he met his wife and where his son was attending college; we were able to share stories of the area, as my parents are from Scranton, and many of my relatives are alumni of the University.
- His father, who died when he was four, was an opera singer; I’m a trained classical singer.
- His father taught – as well as his mother for many years – in the Paterson, NJ school system. There’s even a theater dedicated to his dad and named in his honor; my oldest and dearest friend is also a music teacher in the same school system and regularly performed in that theater.
- His father also “discovered” the world-renowned opera bass, Paul Plishka, who was one of his high school students; one of my distant cousins was a friend of Plishka’s when they were growing up in Old Forge, PA.
We started with so many things to talk about, and we began hours of late night telephone calls, with me eventually disclosing my hopes and fears, essentially providing a custom blueprint for him to draw me in and groom me for the manipulation to come. I had no idea that during this whole introductory phase, he was still living in his marital home with his wife, who had no idea their marriage was about to blow apart.
After meeting him and beginning our relationship, he immediately swooped in with lavish Christmas gifts for me and my daughters, expressing an interest in meeting my family, and even offering a gift of several thousand dollars to retain my divorce attorney.
There was no end to his generosity of time, attention, and support. It never occurred to me he had the time or inclination to be with or spend the same sort of money on another woman, which was the habit he kept throughout my relationship with him.
LLO: Do you remember when you got your first red flag, what it was, and how you responded to it?
Looking back, there were several “pink” flags. Even in the beginning of our relationship, there were flashes of intuition or unease, but never anything fully-formed. And they were always counter-balanced with the undeniable facts of our relationship:
He was with me every day or on the phone, texting and emailing me constantly, spending enormous amounts of money on my children and me, house-hunting for a marital home.
So to consider he was anything else but the devoted, faithful, monogamous partner he professed to be would be patently ridiculous. My children were even convinced of his loyalty to me. When he left each evening, they joked with him and asked, “Are you going to visit your other girlfriend?” It was a family ritual that always elicited a great amount of laughs and smiles all around.
I’d have to say, though, that the first real red flag came when his wife sent me an email in October 2013. It was styled as a typical “you don’t know the real man” warning and alluded to many other girlfriends and a history of cheating.
She spoke about passing by and seeing him in front of “his house” with another woman, who I would later learn was another girlfriend, a waitress at a local pizzeria.
This made absolutely no sense, because this man moved to be closer to me. I immediately forwarded it to him. He reacted with derision and laughed, “She’s crazy! I’m with you every day! What is she talking about – my house?”
What I did not know was, in addition to renting a town home to be close to my girls and me, he also leased a house in Easton, PA to have on hand for his lunch time trysts. Because his wife didn’t provide further information or back-up, the email became sort of a joke between us, with me sometimes laughing and referring to “the half a mile away girl” – the waitress. We wrote it off as the diatribe of a crazy, scorned woman, which fit perfectly.
He did a magnificent job from the start portraying his wife as unhinged, jealous, and bent on revenge. His wife never contacted me again.
LLO: At what point did pulling on the thread, so to speak, lead to the unraveling of all the deception you were experiencing? And, what was that first thread (e.g. found text messages, then-wife reaching out to you, etc.)?
In hindsight, it took me much too long to take a stand and make a move to take aggressive steps to figure out exactly what was going on. A part of me did not want to believe, and couldn’t conceive, something about him was not quite right.
I’m reminded of a scriptural text, about a light shining in the darkness, and the darkness comprehending it not. It was never anything obvious or overt. For me, it was an accumulation and eruption of years of those small flashes of unease and intuition I so readily pushed down. I began to see, over time, a series of patterns of behavior that became absolutely predictable.
In my case, for the third year in a row, he was manufacturing problems and relationship issues regarding my supposed feeling about the situation regarding he and his children, whom I never met. He maintained I would never understand his devotion to them and the fragile post-separation relationship he worked so hard to preserve, which was why it was never a good time for me to meet them.
My girls went to camp every summer and were away for almost a month. After our first blissful summer together, it became his summer time habit to create an alienating issue between us so we would be at odds. It was his intention to keep me at a distance. Now I know why:
He was initiating or maintaining the seduction of a new prospect each summer and didn’t want me just popping by, free and unencumbered from my usual 24-hour-a-day-single- mother parenting.
I started to obsess over inconsistencies and how they related to his wife’s email. I became convinced of a few very disturbing truths:
- He was living at home with his wife when he first pursued me.
- He was unfaithful during his marriage – not during periods of agreed-upon separation between he and his wife like he had assured me.
- If we were to move forward, all of these issues would need to come out into the open and be addressed.
This all came to a head in July 2016 when I confronted him for the last time.
LLO: How many girlfriends and lovers was he juggling at one time and was he still married at this time? How did you all initially find out about each other?
When I met him, I now know he had just come out of several extra-marital relationships and was desperately trying to rekindle them by incessantly texting, emailing, and sending them gifts. I’ve been directly in touch with three of the woman and indirectly in contact with a fourth woman who is a mammogram tech and girlfriend from one of his hospital jobs.
He told us all he was either separated or desperately drowning in an unhappy, dead marriage.
A favorite tactic of his was to forward a fake divorce filing he created online to “prove” to women he was indeed in the process of divorcing. At the time he and I began our relationship, he was living at home with his wife and was seeing the waitress (also known as “the half-mile away girl”), who I spoke to and confirmed this for me.
During my relationship, I can confirm he was involved with a total of five other women – not including his wife. We’re convinced there are many more still unknown to us, both during his marriage and my relationship.
After his true nature was made clear to me, I immediately contacted his wife. After profusely apologizing, even though I was not certain at that time he left her to be with me, we spoke non-stop for over three hours. It was she who said, “Nina, not only am I surprised to hear you are still around, but I’m so sorry to tell you that it’s not just one other woman right now, but it’s been…” And she proceeded to list the names of other women she knew to be in his life.
After that, I was determined to piece together the gaps and unexplained pieces of my life with this man. This led to long phone calls with the other women, even with one who had moved away as far as Texas. In total, five of us came together.
Together, we were intent on amassing and sharing information and composing an enormous diagram. It became a considerable feat of project management expertise to connect it all together. The shear amount of facts, the overlaps, the webs upon webs of deception – it was staggering.
This man was incredibly adept. The world he created and maintained for so long was certainly impressive, but once it began to crumble, the crash was swift and messy.
His cool demeanor devolved into repeated, crazy assertions about me and all of us who had come to know the truth. He accused us all of being crazy, mentally unstable, drunks. He painted us as stalkers, not former girlfriends, and claimed we were upset he broke up with us and that we fabricated emails, recorded fake voice mails, and Photoshopped thousands of photos.
His excuses sounded manic and far-fetched, as if they came from someone with advanced mental illness. His paranoia was intense and profound.
Basically, he was unhinged.
For over 25 years, he was very successful in doing what he did. But once we all got together and learned the truth, he was totally exposed. And the word throughout our communities about his conduct is spreading.
LLO: He is a doctor of osteopathic medicine. Is that right?
He is a University of Scranton graduate and a New England Medical School Graduate. He is a D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathy).
LLO: When and what kind of private medical information did he, this doctor, start sharing with you?
A week or so after I met him, he sent me the full official military medical record of an Army Specialist whom he pronounced dead at the Balad field hospital where he was assigned during the surge in Summer 2007. In it the patient’s name was revealed, along with his positive HIV and Hepatitis C status.
I believe he sent this in an effort to impress me as a noble brave military physician. As I am not a healthcare professional, I was not aware at the time this was a direct violation of HIPAA directives – both the sending of medical information via the unencrypted internet and the disclosure of confidential records:
- I regularly received information from him via email or texts containing photos of patients graphically displaying their wounds, skin laceration/eruptions, etc. from every angle.
- He sent all types of medical records, as well as copies of prescriptions and would often follow up by discussing their names and course of medical treatment he prescribed or conducted.
- He often had doctor-patient conversations with me in the room or while driving in the car via speaker phone. He even enlisted me to write down patients’ names and numbers when he checked into the answering service.
- He sent me emails which included descriptions of patients’ homes or GPS coordinates of their homes in Google maps and commented on their size or location.
- He treated some of his military subordinates and their spouses and openly discussed that fact with me, as well as the medications he prescribed them.
You don’t have to take my word for it; I have the physical proof to back up many of these assertions and the other women involved can report identical behavior.
In addition, after the girlfriends started to share stories, we learned our personal medical information was shared between us by him as well. We and our children were all his patients. It was strange to meet up with the other women, all of us already equipped with knowledge of each other’s most private, confidential information.
Perhaps the most egregious of his offenses was in the Summer of 2014, when he shuttered his Forks, PA private practice. Three of us can verify – as we have seen them – that he moved and stored all his practice’s medical records onto the floor of his unlocked, unsecured garage of his rental property, where he is not the only person privileged to access the files. We witnessed these files strewn about, some just pulled out when he needed to find one, and scattered all over the floor. This is a particularly serious HIPAA offense.
LLO: What is his role in the military?
He is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, based in Middletown, right outside of Harrisburg. He claims to be the Chief Medical Director, assigned in 2014. However, FOIA military records show him listed today as a Flight Surgeon, a position he was assigned prior to his promotion to Medical Director.
We all agree his military status and security clearance made him that much more trusted and more believable to us as a person of the most upstanding of moral character.
His CV boasts he is responsible for the flight fitness and health of every Airman in his Wing. He also stated he’s a part of the SARC (Sexual Assault Response Coordination) initiative at the Wing, a fact, if true, is particularly outrageous, given that any reasonable person would view him as a particular sort of sexual predator.
Although he served in Middle East assignments, his records indicate he did so for a total of just over four months, not the four tours of four months each he claimed in one of his newspaper interviews.
There was a time when one of my children and one of the other women’s children were very interested in joining the Air Force, because they were so impressed by this man. Of course, at the time, they were under the impression this man was going to be in their lives for quite some time. I’m sad to say the children are no longer interested in the military and are, in fact, generally repulsed by the whole idea given our experiences.
LLO: When and how did you find out he was using false tales of military service as an excuse to see other women?
This is an enormous and important point for all of the women involved:
We are all proud Americans and patriots and loyal supporters of our nation’s armed services. We were particularly devoted to this man and assisted him in any way we could with his military career. Whether it was mending or laundering or pressing his uniform, taking care his medals were pinned on in the right way, shining his shoes, or sending provisions overseas to soldiers in his unit – we were all there and were happy to make contributions and provide our support.
But after learning of his infidelity, I realized absolutely anything could be true, and the world of possibility broke open. I was convinced some of the time he claimed as “military time away” was actually time spent with other women.
One of the other women recalled to me a time in 2008 when this man claimed to be away for two weeks in Texas on assignment to look into the death of a fellow officer. According to his military records, there was no assignment; it did not happen. We suspect he spent at least a portion of that time in Miami with one of his other concurrent girlfriends.
As for our shared time together, in the summer of 2015 when I was unable to be with him, another woman accompanied him to drill weekends and time away on his Jersey Shore houseboat. This same woman also reports countless times throughout the years he lied to his wife about reporting to the Wing for duty, only to spend that time with her.
Early on, he sent me a photo I used for years on my phone to identify when he was calling. It was a terrific photo of him in field uniform and brandishing a semi-automatic weapon. He said it was taken in Bosnia. Again, not so – no trips to Bosnia – ever. His wife confirms it was most likely taken at the very “exotically dangerous” location of Fort McGuire in south Jersey.
In the summer of 2014, I made plans for him to accompany me to Ohio to meet my extended family. But first, we were to enjoy a “family” vacation with my mother and children in Miami. However, this was the time of Obama’s “Boots on the Ground” Middle East itinerary, and he haphazardly explained he could not travel that far away in case he was called to report to Fort Bragg, NC to administer physicals to troops departing overseas.
Instead of traveling to Miami, we enjoyed an idyllic time in Maine. He romantically and very emotionally took us on a tour of his life spent there, while I ignored the fact Maine was full of so many memories for him being the place he lived with his wife and where their first child was born. Not to mention Maine is a lot further away from North Carolina than Miami is.
While in Maine, he stole me away to look at wedding rings and talked about which ones he would choose for each of us when the time finally came. My mother remarked about how pleased she was to witness his complete and utter devotion to me. When he asked my mother to help him pick out three souvenir hoodies for his daughter and her friends, I really felt like life couldn’t be more perfect.
He dropped us off after the long ride home, and gave us all a kiss. We wished him luck on his military mission.
Immediately after the tearful goodbyes, he picked up one of the other women for a trip to the Jersey Shore, where they retained a realtor to look for beach properties to purchase. And the hoodies my mother helped him select? They were for this woman and her two daughters.
While I was visiting my family in Ohio, he called me several times a day from “Fort Bragg”. I placed him on speaker, and he cheerfully and colorfully related some exciting tales about hanging out at the shooting range with Navy SEALS, as well as just doing his humble military duty. Little did I know he was spending unblemished time with another woman at home in the Lehigh Valley!
He also planned a trip to Florida with the same woman he took to the Jersey Shore, and told me he once again had to report to provide physicals this time at Fort Eglin and Fort Walton Beach, FL. He even sent me a selfie on a speedboat. Upon closer inspection of the photo, I was able to make out a shadowy figure in his sunglass’s reflection. “Is that your girlfriend”? I jokingly teased him, having no suspicion at the time. “LOL no, that’s our boating instructor”.
I met the other woman in the picture, who later confirmed it was indeed she on the boat with him. She also reported other incidents in which he lied about his military duties:
- He claimed he was unable to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas 2014 with her as he was going to be called away to military duty again. In reality, he was preparing her for his absence as his practice was to spend those holidays with me and my family.
- In March 2015, there was a horrific helicopter accident in the Fort Walton Beach area, and several young Marines perished in the crash. At a lunch date, he reported to her he had to cut their time short as he was being flown down to Florida to assist with the recovery of the bodies.
This, of course, did not occur, and we’re all particularly offended by his use of a horrible national tragedy to deceive and scam unsuspecting women.
His wife recalls his countless tales of insisting on his need to report to drill early or to assist in minor natural disasters such as floods and mudslides, only to spend time with his mistresses. In fact, the first time I actually met him in person on November 29, 2012, he explained his absence from home to his wife as needing to report to the Wing one day early.
Another effective tactic of his was to report that his elderly, frail stepfather was hospitalized or in a grave medical condition. In January 2016, he reported to one of the girlfriends he would be spending time with his family because his stepfather was hospitalized and on a respirator. Instead, he spent the week with my children and me while the other girlfriend, who thought his stepfather was dying, babysat his dog and checked on his house to make sure the pipes didn’t burst while he was away!
In order to bounce between girlfriends without suspicion, he also liked to claim he was spending time with his daughter, picking her up from school, meeting her for meals, going shopping and to the movies. We were all impressed – and even a tad annoyed – at what a devoted, present, and indulgent father he appeared to be. In reality, he saw very little of her and was just using her existence to cover up time spent among all of us.
I feel strongly about addressing what I can only surmise is collusion and cooperation among his superior officers and those in his command, and how it contributed to all of us believing his fabrication about being a faithful, monogamous partner. We all feel the military is partially responsible here, not only in perpetuating the myth of his good character, but the covering up of our attempted reporting of his unbecoming conduct.
Once a month, he reported for a military drill weekend. It was our practice to bring my daughters and often their friends for a fun getaway weekend. He called it our Family Weekend. I brought them to Hershey Park and to the various sites around the state capitol. In the evenings after his daily duties, we would later enjoy dinner as a family.
What I didn’t realize is that when I was unable to attend, he took other women. Two of the other women can confirm they had the same experience as I did: socializing for dinner or drinks – or at Family Day picnics or Christmas parties – with his fellow soldiers. It was obvious each of us attended in the capacity as a girlfriend, but nobody ever acted strangely, or uncomfortable, or pulled us aside to inquire whether or not we knew there was a carousel of women coming in and out to drill functions.
I can’t tell you how many times I was in their company and greeted by them with a hug and a kiss. His superior Colonel frequently asked me to remind him to study for his Air War College exams to attain his long-held goal of being a full Colonel, too.
At these events, my children and I were regarded as a member of not only this man’s immediate family, but his military family as well.
I can’t help but wonder why no one spoke out or made some reference that something wasn’t quite right. As I now see it, at best his subordinates were compliant and acted to perpetuate the façade that he was an honorable, faithful man of character. At worst, they all knew the truth and were entertained by the prospect of him getting one over on all of us – a sort of perverse “good old boys” fraternity group-think, pervasive in the military for so many years.
LLO: At what point did you recognize your life had turned into the movie you watched years ago?
I’ll never forget that moment, because it was a flash of intense personal devastation in which I immediately knew I finally had insight and clarity. The TRUTH was exposed in this moment and inspired me to begin building a foundation of truth-seeking, advocacy, and activism.
On July 12, 2016, after weeks of relationship turmoil, I decided to go to his home and try to find anything there to help me understand what had been going on. As his girlfriend, he gave me the key to his home many years before, and I knew, as such, I was legally permitted entry. The first thing I saw on the kitchen counter was a real estate brochure, indicating he recently visited a home nearby he and I described as “our dream house”. We’d been tracking its activity on the market in hopes the price would drop. I was at once confused and reassured, as if all was well with us. I thought this was evidence he must be checking up on that house, yes?
But a few feet away, in his kitchen window next to a coffee mug he always kept there – one from my house and later, I found, one that was a gift from one of his many girlfriends – I came upon a love letter from another woman. She described her love for him and how they had just started their long and happy life together. He had taken this other woman on a tour of that house – our house. In somewhat of a daze but determined, I proceeded upstairs where I found another note from her, thanking him for the beautiful weekend they shared.
I couldn’t think properly, but I certainly knew what all of this meant. Our relationship was over, and I had absolutely no interest in being with him ever again.
I remember taking one last good, long look around his home, pausing upon a few things I gave him to use until we purchased a home together – some lamps, linens, dishes, furniture. While taking it all in, I thought to myself, “I will never, ever be in this place again.”
Before leaving, I walked his dog and had a revelation about why his dog was always so nervous, squirrelly, uncomfortable, and anxious. His dog didn’t know who his “mom” was. With the constant in and out of all the different women, he could never make an appropriate, affectionate bond with any of us.
I left his home and immediately drove to his medical office to confront him. I walked into the reception area and informed the front desk receptionist I was the doctor’s girlfriend, it was an emergency, and I needed to speak to him immediately. She called him on the phone, then looked back up at me and asked, “May I have your name, please?” Which, at that point, did not surprise me. She ushered me back to his office. He quickly appeared acting completely normal, gave me a hug and a kiss, and cheerfully asked, “What’s up?”
I calmly stated, “Tell me about [insert name of the woman whose letters I found in his home].”
His expression immediately darkened. He walked over to the phone, picked it up, dialed 911, and placed the receiver back down.
“My personal life isn’t any of your business, and I don’t owe you anything. I just notified the police, and they will be here shortly. Did you drive here in the Buick? I want it back.”
Since November 2015 when my car lease expired, I drove a car he lent to me. The idea was to purchase a car together once his divorce was final.
“But you GAVE that car to me. You gave me the title!” I protested, absolutely bewildered.
“The police will be here soon. You are being hysterical. I want my car back.”
I was in no way raising my voice, using foul language, or acting in a menacing manner. While we were waiting, he attempted to break me down by mocking me with a list of embarrassing and personal confidences I’d shared with him over the years.
When the police arrived, he put on the doctor/military officer charm and explained to them I’d just been in his house illegally and there was a strong possibility I may have firearms in my handbag, which I might have stolen from his home. This, of course, was ridiculous, but I had to submit to a search nonetheless. Ultimately, I had to surrender the car, and the last memory I have of our formerly perfect love affair was me watching him walk toward his office through the back window of a police car, which was whisking me towards a populated, well-lit area where I could be deposited to await the over-one-hour ride home.
LLO: In part 2, we’ll explore the impact all of this had on you and the other women and children involved in this as well as any negative consequences that may have come to his patients as a result of sharing their private medical information (if they know about it without, of course, revealing any private information). Are there any military repercussions here I don’t know about? He had an affair with someone in the Air Force. Anything come from that? What else is important to you about this story to go over before we talk about impact on you, children, etc.?
He divulged the name and private medical information of a patient who was employed at my children’s school. I ultimately visited this “patient” at his workplace to let him know what I knew. Of course, at first, he was wary and probably thought I was deranged, but I calmly let him know what I knew of his condition, where he lived, etc. I even showed him a photo of his doctor and myself at my daughters’ school, his place of work. The photo seemed to convince him of my intent and truthfulness.
As for other patients, they have not been made aware of their doctor’s breach of confidentiality and bad practices. I can’t imagine, if informed, they would be pleased knowing their doctor divulged what they shared with him in confidence via email, text, and careless gossip. And toward what end?
Looking back, I remember how often this man admonished me to be more careful and less trusting. He would say, “I know. I know how these crazy, deranged people think and what they think about. I hear it all the time”. It chills me now to think he was really talking about himself.
Regarding the military, last summer we attempted to schedule a meeting with his long-time commanding officer who commanded him for many years. I enjoyed a warm relationship with his commanding officer, and I reached out to him via email, introducing him to our concerns regarding the doctor’s misuse of military deployment reporting to deceive women, years of appropriating taxpayer paid hotel rooms to cheat on his wife, his subordinates protecting and concealing his behavior, disseminating military medical records – all of which should be actionable transgressions against the military code of conduct.
His commanding officer responded and put me in contact with a Master Sergeant who effectively dismissed our claims and stated, “We knew the doctor had a lot of girlfriends, but I don’t think this constitutes a true domestic matter”.
A report/inquiry was made on our behalf in December 2016 by Mary Schantag, Chairman of the POW Network and a “stolen valor” watchdog. She was in contact with David Coffman at the PA National Guard’s Inspector General’s Office. We never heard anything further from them.
We also can confirm that the doctor conducted an affair with a subordinate, a nephrologist whom he met in Balad during the summer of 2007. It is documented through emails, photos, and hotel records. This has yet to be reported to the military.
Questions and call-to-action for our readers:
- Should we continue ignoring this type of abuse and deception orchestrated by MILITARY and HEALTH CARE SYSTEM professionals?
- Is it preposterous for us to expect those overseeing these professional con-artists within the MILITARY and HEALTH CARE SYSTEM to take allegations seriously?
- Or is it just easier and less of a burden for us to maintain the status quo and not accuse abusers who happen to be doctors or high-ranking military personnel of being abusers just because they’re doctors and high-ranking military personnel?
If you desire our society to do and be better, consider reading and signing Nina’s petition today. It’s not out-of-line to expect consequences for those behaving out-of-line regardless of their position and rank.