Doctor Awad to learn sentence Tuesday
Prosecutors are asking for three years of probation and one year in jail for a Lake Havasu City doctor accused in last year of sexual assault, sexual abuse and surreptitious photography.
Ayman Awad will be sentenced Tuesday after accepting a plea agreement from the Mohave County Attorney’s Office in November. He will plead guilty to surreptitious photography, and all other charges against him will be dismissed, according to court records. There is no stipulation in the agreement that Awad be sentenced as a sex offender, but Mohave County Deputy Attorney Megan McCoy urged Superior Court Judge Richard Weiss to consider applying Awad’s probation as such in a Dec. 5 sentencing memorandum.
“He took an unconscious young woman, sexually abused her and took pictures,” McCoy wrote. “Incarceration is necessary … supervised probation, with the imposition of court-mandated counseling and services, and a maximum on year term of jail is appropriate. The defendant is not a sex-offender in the plea, but that does not bar heightened supervision due to circumstances of the offense.”
The prosecution’s evidence lies in nearly 30 digital images found in an external hard drive at Awad’s place of business, Havasu Imaging Center. According to prosecutors, those images were created in May 2008, and allegedly depicted Awad in the act of sexually assaulting a nude, unconscious woman. These images were discovered by a former employee of Awad’s and turned over to the FBI in 2015.
Federal investigators searched for the victim, with their only lead being an image of her driver’s license in Awad’s alleged files. She was located almost in Los Angeles almost 10 years after the crime took place.
The victim’s identity is a matter of public record, but due to the nature of the alleged offense, she will not be identified by Today’s News-Herald.
The victim remembers the arrival of FBI agents at her door in February 2016. They urgently needed to speak to her, they said.
“I had no idea what for until they mentioned Lake Havasu,” the victim wrote in a letter to Weiss last month. “I knew right then and there, something was very wrong. I have only been to Lake Havasu once, and I have been trying to put that trip out of my memory forever.”
She doesn’t remember meeting Awad during her vacation in Havasu. She doesn’t remember meeting him in a bar, or even knew who he was until he sent her a text message, the victim wrote.
“He texted me the following morning, saying he had my driver’s license,” the victim wrote. “I had no idea who he was, but I went to meet him the next morning with a friend. I met (Awad) at his car, and he retrieved my ID from his center console. He told me I had thrown up in his car, and that he rescued me from the bar because I tried to steal money from the bartender.”
The victim said she found Awad’s alleged story to be suspicious. When she went to retrieve her driver’s license from Awad, she saw no sign of vomit in his vehicle to corroborate his statement. She also said stealing is something she would never do, no matter how intoxicated.
“I knew what he was saying was a total lie,” the victim wrote. “I took my ID, thanked him, and quickly ran.”
The victim now believes Awad kept her ID for the deliberate purpose of luring her to a meeting the next day, where he would ascertain whether indeed she had no memory of the alleged assault.
“It sickens me to think how naïve I was, to not think more of this situation,” the victim wrote. “At 21, I was naïve, and sexual abuse was not something commonly spoken of or warned about. Why would I think a doctor, 30 years older than myself, could ever be capable of doing something so heinous to me?”
Federal agents informed the victim of the crime committed against her. Then they showed her the evidence.
“The first picture they showed was of me, lying on a white tile floor, with hair strewn across my face, clearly unconscious,” the victim said. According to the victim, she recognized the clothing she wore on the night of the offense.
“The second picture (investigators) pulled out was of me in the same pose, with my shirt pulled up, exposing my left breast. My skirt was up to my waist, exposing my underwear. His hand was groping my breast with a full grip.”
The remaining images would be more graphic, according to prosecutors. When FBI agents determined the victim was legally an adult when the alleged assault occurred, they turned the case against Awad over to the Lake Havasu City Police Department.
“After dropping this enormous bomb on me, telling me that a doctor had digitally raped me eight years ago, they left me dumbfounded, sitting on a stool, completely paralyzed,” the victim wrote.
“I went back up to my home and my boyfriend cried ourselves to sleep that night … the morning after the FBI visited me, I went to work at 8 a.m. I had no choice, because I run my own business. I was too distracted to do my job and I couldn’t wait for it to be over because all I desperately wanted to do was speak with my family.”
She called her parents on Facetime as soon as she was able, and told them.
“Think of all the times you may have seen your father cry,” the victim wrote. “I had only seen my father cry twice in my whole life … when shared with them the horrifying news the FBI told me, it broke my father’s heart. I have never seen my father cry so hard in my entire life.”
Awad was arrested Nov. 17, 2017, on charges of sexual assault, sexual abuse and surreptitious photography. Separate booking documents from the same date also show that was charged with possession of dangerous drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia.
At the time of Awad’s arrest, a single diazepam pill was found in one of his pockets, according to police records. According to the police report, he did not possess a prescription for the pill, but said he often provided such medication to patients to help them relax.
The victim remembers a female Los Angeles Police Officers speaking to her as charges against Awad were being pursued.
“I was not about to let this man get away with what he did, especially when I had pictures to prove it. Ayman Awad is a doctor who has taken the Hippocratic oath, to never do harm to another person. He has violated this oath and made a mockery of it … His harm is life-changing, life-lasting and clearly an insult to many of those who have taken the same oath.”
According to the victim, she has fought for almost three years to bring Awad to justice. While she wasn’t pleased with the plea agreement offered to Awad, she wrote to Mohave County Superior Court Judge Richard Weiss in the hope that it would impact his sentencing decision next week.
An Act Out of Character
Defense attorneys Michael Wozniak, of Kingman-based Whitney & Whitney Law Office, and Phoenix-based attorney Jason Lamm, submitted their own sentencing memorandum on Awad’s behalf on Friday.
According to Awad’s attorneys, the spring of 2008 was perhaps the most difficult time of the defendant’s life. He was in the midst of a tumultuous divorce, while simultaneously grieving the death of his brother. His stress led him to self-medicate, his attorneys said, which led to a 2010 DUI conviction. Awad’s alleged crime against the victim was aberrant behavior – a deviation from an otherwise law-abiding life, his attorneys said.
Twelve acquaintances of Awad’s wrote to Weiss, expressing surprise at the accusation. To each, such an act is wholly out of character for a man they’ve known for decades.
“The offense represents isolated conduct that happened more than 10 years ago,” Awad’s attorneys said. “If the defendant was a sex offender or some other threat to the community, it would have come to light through other criminal behavior. Not only has the defendant maintained a productive lifestyle, he has meaningfully contributed to the community and proven himself to be an individual who is loyal to and supportive of his family.”
‘The Man I Know’
Lake Havasu City oncologist Paul O’Neill has known Awad for 18 years. They’ve celebrated holidays and birthdays at each other’s homes, O’Neill said, or simply paid each other social visits. O’Neill served as one character witness in Awad’s case.
“I am astounded by these accusations,” O’Neill wrote to Mohave County Superior Court Judge Richard Weiss last month. “This is far beyond the reality of the man I have come to know and very inconsistent with this man’s character.”
Awad has been a steadfast friend, full of genuine and invaluable advice, O’Neill said.
“He is committed to serving his community through excellence as a diagnostic radiologist, and often goes way beyond the extra mile for patients in need,” O’Neill wrote. “I understand the distressing circumstances that Dr. Awad faces. He has expressed his deepest fears about the ramifications of such a charge, particularly its grave repercussions for his family and career. I am confident in my assessment of him and I believe he will continue to be a valuable member of society.”
Havasu resident Gail Kulp once worked for Awad as a medical transcriptionist. She described him as a supportive, patient and helpful employer.
“That is not the man I know,” Kulp said. “It is completely out of character. I was diagnosed with breast cancer during my employment with Dr. Awad. He was instrumental in getting, and helping me to understand the kind of care that I needed. He worked with me on my work hours during the chemotherapy and radiation therapy I was receiving at the time. His kindness and understanding of my needs was very instrumental in my empowerment to get better … I cannot say enough kind and supportive words about his character, always being a professional and special person. He will remain my friend forever.”
Two Versions of a Man
Awad had a favorable reputation as a physician in Havasu, according to his son, Nicola Awad. He would never turn away a person in need, regardless of their ability to pay.
“People were given a fighting chance thanks to his practice,” Nicola Awad said. “People were turned away and refused at other facilities, but my father was the vigilant hero thousands depended on. My father created a legacy in Lake Havasu City, one that would earn respect and gratitude by the simple utterance of our last name.”
According to Nicola, however, it is difficult to reconcile the two versions of a man he’s known his entire life – the version who raised him, and the version described by Mohave County prosecutors.
“The man I have known my entire life and shared many experiences with throughout the years is not capable of carrying out these egregious accusations.”
Awad’s daughter, Noel Awad, is approximately the same age as his alleged victim. She knows only a kind, loving individual, she told Superior Court Judge Richard Weiss this month.
“On no occasion during my childhood or adult life has he exhibited impulsive or immodest behaviors that would otherwise be injurious to another human being,” Noel said. “This man has dedicated his life to the noble cause of treating and caring for the human existence … This is a serious offense in both the eyes of the law and any ethical or moral human being. The man I know to be my father and the man sitting on trial for this crime are at great odds with one another.”
According to Awad’s attorneys, federal courts have recognized aberrant conduct as a mitigating factor in sentencing, and one to be considered by Weiss next week. Awad has never been accused of any other felony before or since the accusations against him were made.
Although Awad will plead guilty to the offense of surreptitious photography, attorney Mike Wozniak made clear Friday afternoon that Awad denies sexual motivation in the offense.
“The allegation of sexual motivation has been dismissed,” Wozniak said. “Doctor Awad is not a sexual deviant and denies that the charge he pleaded to was motivated by any such deviancy. While he stands by the stipulated factual basis of the plea agreement, the resolution in Doctor Awad’s case was by its very nature a compromise, and should not be viewed as a concession by Doctor Awad that he is a danger to our community.”