DOCTOR GETS THE MAXIMUM

MICHELE MORGAN BOLTON Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B1

Date: Friday, October 8, 2004

ALBANY -- Devastated parents packed an Albany County courtroom on Thursday to take turns telling Dr. Phillip Riback how his abuse of their children had ruined their lives. But if they were expecting a personal apology from the prominent pediatric neurologist, they were sadly disappointed. None would be forthcoming.


Instead, before being sentenced to 48 years behind bars, the 45-year-old Riback thanked those who have stood by him, given his June conviction on 28 counts of sexually abusing 12 young male patients.


``I now realize my career is gone,'' Riback said, as his wife, Susan, cried. ``My reputation has been destroyed. My life savings has been spent. But I am left with what is most important of all, the love of family and friends.''


``I would like to offer my extreme sorrow, regret and remorse for any action I have performed that was misconstrued,'' Riback also said, as he asked County Judge Stephen W. Herrick for leniency.


But Herrick sentenced Riback to the maximum allowed by law, although he will only have to serve 40 of those years. The judge said he had no doubt Riback is a good friend and family man and a brilliant physician who has done much good. But he said those who love him have no real idea of the irreparable harm he's caused.


``You are in the truest sense of the word a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,'' Herrick said. ``They came to you sick and needy and you violated that trust. I find absolutely no explanation for your acts.''


Riback was convicted on June 24 on 28 of 30 counts, including 12 felony charges.


The abuse took place in the examining rooms of Upstate Neurology Associates on Atrium Drive, usually when the boys' parents had been asked to step outside the room.


During the trial, boy after boy tearfully testified over three weeks about how terrified they were when Riback touched them inappropriately or forced them to engage in bizarre acts -- including spitting on his face or in his mouth.


Riback, who did not testify during his trial, was considered by many of his peers to be one of the region's top pediatric neurologists.


His lawyer, William Dreyer, has claimed that the inappropriate ways Riback related to the children -- by joking and wrestling, for example -- was simply meant to put them at ease.


On Thursday, Dreyer said Riback suffers from a disorder that makes initiating normal social contact difficult: ``He has a pattern of quirky, entertaining behavior as a way of relating that simply goes too far.''


Dreyer indicated more than 80 letters from Riback's friends, colleagues and others who continue to claim that ``Phil'' just couldn't do anything like that to children, as he promised an appeal.


But state health officials received complaints about Riback dating to 1999, according to law enforcement officials. Police, however, said they were not aware of the allegations until a parent called Colonie detectives in September 2002.


Two months later, in November, Riback was arrested and charged with sexually abusing two boys. When word of his arrest spread, Colonie police received nearly 100 additional complaints from parents who believed their sons were abused during office visits.


Many of the alleged incidents took place while Riback already was being investigated by the Health Department, including one that occurred the day after he was chastised.


Before sentencing Thursday, Riback didn't react as mothers and fathers held each other and cried while one woman described her son's bravery in coming forward.


It isn't the monsters possibly lurking under his bed or in the closet that terrify her son now, she said: ``No, the monster is you. You preyed upon his trust and vulnerability with your self-centered arrogance. ... And you used a medical degree as a free-pass for pedophilia. Justice has been brought to you by a 5-foot, 3-inch crusader who followed the truth and used it to lock away the monster.''


While she spoke, Riback's relatives often looked at each other and smirked, while shaking their heads no.


``I trusted you,'' another woman said. ``And you let me stand there outside that door, not three feet away, while you harmed my son. Now I will live with that guilt forever.''


A father took a deep breath to steady himself when it was his turn.


``I sat in the lobby and read a magazine while my son was being brutalized and tortured,'' he admitted. ``I will never forget the ride home that day as his life was being sucked out of him.''


The boy later slit his wrists, the man said: ``My son would have been better off with migraines than the nightmares he will have for a lifetime.''


Riback's father and a family friend each said outside the courtroom they believe a successful appeal will free an innocent man. Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at 434-2403 or by e-mail at mbolton@timesunion.com.