Nobel winner charged with sex abuse NIH scientist fondled boy, 15, officials say

April 05, 1996|By Scott Higham and Marcia Myers | Scott Higham and Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Diana K. Sugg, Joe Matthews and research librarian Susan Waters contributed to this article.

A Nobel Prize-winning scientist at the National Institutes of Health who brought dozens of children from remote South Pacific islands to live with him in Maryland was charged yesterday with sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy he brought back from Micronesia.

Dr. Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, 72, who said he used part of his Nobel Prize money to educate 16 children he took from the South Pacific in the 1970s, was arrested at his Frederick County home yesterday by a squad of FBI agents and police officers.

Prosecutors charged Dr. Gajdusek -- internationally known in the field of neurology and for his scientific work with children -- with two counts of child abuse and two counts of unnatural perverted practice.

Prosecutors say Dr. Gajdusek brought about 56 children into the United States during the past 30 years. Investigators say they are trying to determine how the children were brought into the country and whether any of them might have been abused. Four children are living with Dr. Gajdusek, according to court records.

Yesterday, the FBI, sheriff's deputies and agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service searched Dr. Gajdusek's home on Deer Spring Road in Middletown for evidence in the case.

As he was escorted to the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, Dr. Gajdusek denied doing anything wrong.

"I'm trying to find out what's happening," said Dr. Gajdusek, who wore a blue corduroy shirt and horn-rimmed glasses, his hair long, gray and straight. "I don't know what's happening."

According to court records, Dr. Gajdusek has been under investigation by the FBI since last fall, when agents began examining his relationship to the children he brought into the United States from Micronesia and New Guinea.

For years, Dr. Gajdusek traveled to those countries to conduct scientific research. His work included viral studies relating to children.

Earlier this year, FBI agents received information that Dr. Gajdusek allegedly fondled two children at his home. One, a boy who was 15 at the time, is now a college student and is cooperating with authorities.

The alleged victim told agents that Dr. Gajdusek brought him to the United States from Micronesia on Aug. 13, 1987, and that his father had approved of the arrangement. The purported purpose of the trip was to educate the teen in America.

Shortly after arriving at the doctor's home in Frederick County, the alleged victim told FBI agents that Dr. Gajdusek began molesting him, usually in the boy's bedroom or in the shower, according to court records.

The alleged victim said he tried to resist, but was overpowered by the doctor.

He told agents he was assaulted on several occasions between 1987 and 1991.

On March 15, 1996, the alleged victim spoke to Dr. Gajdusek on the telephone. In that conversation, Dr. Gajdusek admitted to abusing the alleged victim and apologized, according to an affidavit prepared by the FBI. Agents say the doctor also confessed to having sex with other boys, some in foreign countries, the document says.

When the alleged victim asked the doctor if he knew the meaning of the word "pedophile," Dr. Gajdusek supposedly responded: "I am one," according to the FBI account of the telephone call. The doctor also pleaded with the alleged victim not to say anything and to lie to the authorities if he was ever questioned, the affidavit says.

Late last night, Dr. Gajdusek was in jail in lieu of $1 million bond, pending a hearing today.

"He's been very cooperative," said Frederick prosecutor Scott L. Rolle. "He hasn't given us any trouble."

This isn't the first time Dr. Gajdusek has been investigated for sex abuse charges.

In 1989, Montgomery County police questioned the doctor after two adults reported that they had been abused by him in the 1960s. During that investigation, officers discovered that the doctor had imported large numbers of boys to the United States.

The investigation was suspended when officers could not identify recent victims.

That all changed last year, when FBI agents developed fresh information stemming from a broad investigation of child pornography on the Internet called "Innocent Images."

That investigation has resulted in the arrests of dozens of suspected child pornographers around the nation.

News of yesterday's arrest stunned Dr. Gajdusek's colleagues.

"He's one of the great men of American science," said Dr. Kenneth Johnson, chairman of neurology at the University of Maryland medical school, who has known Dr. Gajdusek for 30 years. "I hope this is not true."

Dr. Gajdusek, a sought-after speaker by medical institutions worldwide, has headed a major lab at the National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke for three decades, Dr. Johnson said.

But Dr. Gajdusek also has traveled the world, tracking down unusual infectious diseases that affect the central nervous system. He discovered a new infectious agent, as well as the rare, fatal Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, recently linked with the "mad cow" disease scare in Great Britain.

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