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In 2006, University of Michigan police investigated Dr. Mark Hoeltzel for allegedly e-mailing and instant messaging an 11-year-old girl for two years after meeting her at a juvenile arthritis camp, telling her she had “pretty long legs” and asking her to go for ice cream.
U-M quietly let him keep his job as he was never charged, but rather ordered to undergo “boundaries” classes.
More than a decade later, Hoeltzel has landed in the middle of a scandal, accused of stashing child pornography on his computer and having a years-long sexual relationship with a patient he met when she was 18.
On Wednesday, even more damning information surfaced about Hoeltzel in federal court, where a prosecutor disclosed fresh allegations that he sent “romantic and flirtatious” texts and e-mails to three minor girls in Missouri last fall, pretended to be a teenage boy and set up a fake Facebook page in that boy’s name.
The bombshell disclosures came during a detention hearing for Hoeltzel, a pediatric rheumatoid arthritis specialist who was arrested Monday on child pornography charges stemming from a broader investigation into a sexual relationship he had with one of his patients.
The university said Wednesday that it’s investigating its actions in 2006 when it sent Hoeltzel for counseling but let him keep his job amid a police investigation of his cyber-relationship with an 11-year-old girl.
According to U-M, Hoeltzel resigned on Jan. 12 in lieu of dismissal by U-M, which learned in December that he had come under investigation by state licensing authorities for his relationship with his patient. His medical license has been revoked.
In court Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward asked a judge to lock Hoeltzel up pending the outcome of the case, arguing he has a history of preying on young girls and was doing so as recently as last fall.
According to Woodward, the government obtained a snapshot of Hoeltzel’s text messages from September through December and discovered that he was texting “flirtatious and romantic” messages to three minor girls in Missouri ages 14 to 17. He pretended to be a teenage boy named “Ryan Gardner” and set up a fake Facebook page under that name, she said.
According to Woodward, Hoeltzel asked one of the girls in a string of texts whether she was a virgin, who she lived with and whether her parents were abusive. He also claimed, in the texts, that his stepmom had sexually abused him.
This, Woodward said, is some of what he texted to the girls:
“Is this my baby girl?” “Good morning dimple goddess,” and “I’m trying to be careful to not talk about sex.”
According to Woodward, the three girls stopped communicating with him after discovering that he was texting all three, with one of them telling him: “It hurt me a lot when my best friend told me you were flirting with her.”
Woodward also cited the 2006 police investigation involving Hoeltzel’s relationship with the 11-year-old girl he met in 2004 at a juvenile arthritis camp.
According to Woodward, the girl’s mother discovered messages between her daughter and the doctor, and reported him to the police. U-M police investigated the incident, but no charges were filed. Instead, Hoeltzel was ordered to participate in a so-called “boundaries” course that involves therapy for addictive and inappropriate behavior.
“He admitted that it was flirtatious, unprofessional and bad judgement,” Woodward said in court, noting authorities have interviewed the girl from the camp. “She now recognizes that (Hoeltzel’s messages) were highly inappropriate and that he was grooming her.”
In a statement to the Free Press on Wednesday, Michigan Medicine spokesperson Mary Masson said the university was aware of the 2006 investigation.
“After the inappropriate messages were brought to the health system’s attention in 2006, the health system cooperated fully with the police on an investigation. While the police did not find evidence constituting criminal conduct, the health system determined that Hoeltzel’s conduct was inappropriate and required him to attend training on appropriate professional conduct,” Masson stated. “Michigan Medicine has engaged an experienced outside reviewer to investigate this entire matter. “
Meanwhile, against the wishes of the government, U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Stafford decided to release Hoeltzel on bond after his lawyer convinced her that he was not a threat to society and that he could be trusted not to flee. He will live on house arrest with his mother in Marshall and has been ordered to wear a GPS tether.
Defense attorney Raymond Cassar said that his client is accused of possessing child pornography, nothing else, and that he has no criminal history.
“His wife is still standing by his side,” Cassar said of his client, who has three minor children, whom he can’t see because of a pending Child Protection Services investigation.
As for the text messages Hoeltzel sent the girls in Missouri, Cassar said they were only “flirtatious” and that he never sent any pictures or asked for any. As for the 2006 investigation involving the 11-year-old girl at the camp, Cassar said no charges were ever filed.
And in the most recent case — in which he lost his medical license for having a three-year-long sexual relationship with a patient — Cassar said that was an ethical violation, not a criminal one.
“This was unprofessional conduct, initiated by the patient,” Cassar told the judge. “It doesn’t make it right, but it makes it less likely that he acted as as predator.”
According to court documents, Hoeltzel came under investigation in December by state licensing authorities for having a sexual relationship with a patient he was treating for rheumatoid arthritis. She also had a mental health diagnosis, court records show.
Prosecutors said he over-prescribed the patient pain medication, saw her more often than required, talked to her about the bodies of his other young patients, and once told her that he would give her more pain medication — as she had requested — in exchange for sex.
During a subsequent investigation, federal agents seized a computer thumb drive from Hoeltzel’s home on which they discovered child pornography, according to court records.
Following an investigation by the State of Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, Hoeltzel resigned from U-M, which has said it is cooperating with authorities.
“These are very disturbing and serious allegations, and we have reached out to our patients to inform them of concerns related to Dr. Hoeltzel, offer resources and provide them with a way to report any concerns,” Marschall Runge, CEO of Michigan Medicine and U-M’s executive vice president of Medical Affairs, has previously said.
Hoeltzel remains locked up. He will be released on bond as soon as pretrial services visit his mother’s home to make sure it is an appropriate place for him. He also is prohibited from using the Internet, a smartphone, having any contact with minors and being near a school or park.
Contact Tresa Baldas: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Tbaldas