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Bush outsourcing at Walter Reed hires pervert who abuses sleeping vets & 16 yr. old boy

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04/07/2007 12:30 PM
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Bush outsourcing at Walter Reed hires pervert who abuses sleeping vets & 16 yr. old boy
Soldier Recounts Abuse at Walter Reed
Man Who Pleaded Guilty to Molesting Iraq Veteran Had Conviction for Fondling Police Officer

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 7, 2007; A03

Two months before Mario Alberto Echeverri administered a sleep disorder test to an Army corporal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the medical technician had been arrested for fondling the groin of a U.S. Park Police officer.

Seventeen months before, Echeverri had been observed touching a Walter Reed patient inappropriately and was warned against such behavior. Two years before, he had been accused of improperly touching a patient at a private sleep center in Gaithersburg.

Cpl. Matthew Burgess knew none of this when he went to the Army hospital the evening of April 21, 2004. Echeverri gave the soldier sleep medication, asked him strip to his shorts, connected him by wire to monitoring equipment and had him lie down. The test was part of a study of whether Burgess's headaches, fatigue and diarrhea were connected to the anthrax vaccine he received when he was deployed to Iraq in 2003.

While the machine monitored Burgess, a surveillance camera captured Echeverri fondling the drugged soldier while he was helpless to respond, court records reflect. Tapes show the technician engaging in similar conduct with two other male patients, one an active-duty soldier and the other a 16-year-old boy, according to records and interviews.

Echeverri, who worked for a private contractor hired by Walter Reed, pleaded guilty in 2005 to second-degree sexual abuse of Burgess, court records indicate. He was not charged in the other two cases as part of his plea agreement, said a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Washington.

For Burgess, 34, his experience at Walter Reed is an unforgivable betrayal that points to a failure by the Army to take care of soldiers returning from Iraq.

"I had already lost my health because of the anthrax vaccine, and this on top of it," said Burgess, whose illness was ultimately determined by the Army to have been caused by the vaccine, medical records show.

"The Army always tells you all the way from basic training that we're a family, and if you do the right thing, we'll take care of you," Burgess said. "You believe that. You want to believe that, but then you find out they don't."

Walter Reed officials said they were unaware of Echeverri's arrest by U.S. Park Police or the allegations in Montgomery County. Once they discovered he had abused patients, Walter Reed removed him from his job and reported him to authorities.

"We reported everything very honestly as we knew it at the time," said Col. David Kristo, then-commander of the sleep center.

The Washington Post does not typically name victims of sexual abuse, but Burgess said he wanted his story told publicly because he thinks it demonstrates the Army's neglect of Iraq war veterans and raises questions about Walter Reed's oversight of contractors.

Burgess and his wife, Robyn, said his experience should be considered as Congress, the Army and various commissions explore how to fix the system. "We want to expose the way our heroes are treated and help our future veterans," Robyn Burgess said.

The Burgesses say they are further outraged by court records showing that Echeverri had been previously accused of similar behavior. "Just when we think we couldn't be angrier at the Army, we are now at a new, all-time level," Robyn Burgess said. "We are shocked at how this was mishandled way back to 2002, when he was accused the first time."

Echeverri, 53, who lived in Columbia at the time of the April 2004 incident and now lives in the District, was accused of touching a patient inappropriately in February 2002 during a sleep study at the Gaithersburg facility of Sleep Services of America, according to a report in his criminal file.

A male patient who said he was touched inappropriately at least twice during the overnight study reported the incident to Montgomery police, and Echeverri was fired by the company, court papers reflect. Police investigated but did not find sufficient evidence to charge him, a police spokeswoman said.

While working on a sleep study at Walter Reed in November 2002, Echeverri was seen passing a leg wire through a patient's shorts to the chest, officials say. Echeverri was warned that such conduct was inappropriate and that he would be fired if he did it again. Kristo said Echeverri was watched more closely after the episode, but there were no further incidents until Burgess was abused in April 2004.

Echeverri was arrested by U.S. Park Police on Feb. 13, 2004, and later convicted of disorderly conduct for fondling the genitals of a law enforcement officer, according to court papers.

"I can't believe the Army doesn't do a better job of researching its employees and contractors," Matthew Burgess said.

When Burgess was abused, Echeverri was employed by Dale M. Carafa, a medical industry contractor. Carafa, of Sterling, said she had no comment. The sleep center no longer uses Carafa's service, Kristo said.

Walter Reed contractors are required to perform background checks and urinalysis for all new hires, but officials could not say whether that policy was in effect in 2002, when Echeverri began working at Walter Reed. "The case certainly indicates the need for a background check," Kristo said.

Burgess joined the Georgia Army National Guard after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

During the build-up to the war in Iraq, his unit, the 190th Military Police Company, was called up. Burgess fell ill immediately upon arriving in the theater in May 2003.

He was evacuated home in June 2003, but Army doctors in Georgia were unable to diagnose his illness. After researching her husband's symptoms, Robyn Burgess said she pressed the doctors to consider the anthrax vaccine as a possible cause.

Burgess was sent to Walter Reed in April 2004 for evaluation at the hospital's National Vaccine Healthcare Center and was asked to take a sleep test.

Burgess reported to the sleep disorder center about 7 p.m. He said he found Echeverri's behavior unsettling. "I thought maybe he was super-friendly. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt."

Burgess said the Ambien he was given left him extremely groggy and fading in and out of consciousness. But he was aware that Echeverri was fondling him. "I remember at least twice his hands being in places they didn't need to be," Burgess said. "The last time, I wanted to say something, to physically react, but I wasn't able to."

The surveillance film shows Echeverri repeatedly touching Burgess's genitals, at one point for 25 seconds, according to court papers.

Burgess called his wife after the test and told her that he suspected he had been molested. She urged him to report it.

The next day, Burgess reported the incident to a nurse, and they took the matter to Kristo, the sleep center commander.

After reviewing the tape, Kristo said, he met with Carafa and Echeverri, and Echeverri denied any inappropriate touching, saying that the contact was accidental.

Kristo fired Echeverri and reported the incident for criminal investigation. "There was a very big concern," Kristo said. "We weren't going to leave someone like that seeing patients."

Echeverri plead guilty and in June 2005 was sentenced to 75 days in jail with two years' supervised probation. He is listed by District police as a sexual offender. He could not be located for comment, and the public defender who represented him did not return phone calls.

Burgess has been retired from service, but he said the Army has told him that he risks losing his disability pay unless he reports for further medical evaluation.

"I never thought I would be treated like this as an Iraq veteran, and they wonder why I really fear going back to be treated again," he said.

Staff news researchers Meg Smith and Rena Kirsch contributed to this report.

[link to www.washingtonpost.com]
if downlinked, it uplinked 1st
User ID: 218614
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04/07/2007 12:37 PM
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Re: Bush outsourcing at Walter Reed hires pervert who abuses sleeping vets & 16 yr. old boy
wow, a new low has been reached, next up helpless amputee rapes

don't know how to categorize this for what clandestine hidden cam market it was intended for?

as medical porn? gay amateur? war porn?

makes you wanna run right out and book yourself into a surgical theatre or recovery suite linked up to CCTV

Anonymous Coward
User ID: 76385
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04/07/2007 12:48 PM
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Re: Bush outsourcing at Walter Reed hires pervert who abuses sleeping vets & 16 yr. old boy
I, can't even stand to hear anymore of bush...........