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Saturday, July 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

VA doctor arrested for alleged sex crimes

Morgenstern has practiced medicine at the VA for about eight years.
Morgenstern has practiced medicine at the VA for about eight years.

A Nine Miles Falls physician accused of drugging and raping a 13-year-old boy early Saturday is in the Stevens County Jail facing charges of child rape and possession of child pornography.

Dr. Craig Morgenstern, who is an emergency room doctor at the Spokane VA Medical Center, turned himself in to the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office late Monday afternoon after learning that a warrant had been issued for his arrest on two rape charges. He was released Tuesday on $100,000 bond. Officers arrested him a second time Wednesday night on the child pornography charge.

Details on the child pornography charge were unavailable late Wednesday. Morgenstern is expected to appear in court on that charge today.

Investigators believe Morgenstern removed key evidence from his home in the Suncrest neighborhood at some point between the initial rape report at 2:30 a.m. Saturday and when deputies returned to Morgenstern’s home with a search warrant shortly after 1 p.m. Sunday.

Morgenstern allowed police to look around his house early Saturday shortly after a 13-year-old boy fled his home and sought help from a neighbor, telling them he had been sexually abused. Deputies could see several electronic devices, video cameras, a thumb drive, several memory cards and cases of recordable DVDs, according to court documents. The deputies took photographs of the inside of the home.

Detectives discovered Sunday that the memory cards, flash drives and various electronic items were missing, as was the bedding the boy was laying on when the alleged rape occurred, according to court documents. An external computer hard drive also is believed to be missing, the documents stated, and the home had been extensively cleaned.

Detectives found eight boxes containing hundreds of pictures of shirtless young boys, Stevens County Sheriff Kendle Allen said.

The 13-year-old boy told police Morgenstern, 45, gave him hot chocolate at his house and that he started feeling sleepy. When he woke up, he told police, Morgenstern was performing oral sex on him. The boy said he pretended to be asleep but told investigators he could see video cameras and believed Morgenstern took pictures of him.

After the boy pretended to wake up, he fled from the house while Morgenstern was in the bathroom and ran to a neighbor’s residence for help, according to court documents.

When police arrived at the neighbor’s, Morgenstern reportedly approached a deputy and said he was looking for a boy missing from his home. He denied anything inappropriate had taken place, according to court documents. Morgenstern reportedly told police he was a friend of the boy’s family and the boy was staying the night and watching movies with Morgenstern. He claimed that the boy was sleepwalking, according to court documents.

The boy told police that after he escaped, Morgenstern sent him several text messages and voicemails suggesting that the boy was sleepwalking, according to court documents.

Morgenstern allowed officers inside his house to look around. They found numerous stand-up arcade games and video game consoles, plus thousands of DVD movies and storage bins full of toys. Morgenstern is single and lives alone, Allen said.

“It had the appearance of someone who was grooming children,” Allen said.

Allen said the boy was examined at Holy Family Hospital in Spokane, where his urine tested positive for benzodiazepine, which is a prescription sedative. The test results came in at 5 p.m. Saturday. When police arrived at Morgenstern’s house later that day to arrest him, he was gone, Allen said.

The Sheriff’s Office is urging anyone who knows of young boys befriended by Morgenstern to call their office at (509) 684-5296 or (509) 684-2555.

“We believe there are more victims out there,” Allen said.

VA hospital officials placed Morgenstern on paid administrative leave Tuesday and have asked the Inspector General’s office to investigate, spokeswoman Megan Crowley said.

“We take these charges with the utmost seriousness,” she said.

Morgenstern’s attorney did not return a phone call Wednesday afternoon.

The Spokane VA does not treat children, and Crowley said there is no indication of criminal activity or potential child grooming tied to Morgenstern on the hospital campus.

Morgenstern has practiced medicine at the VA for about eight years, she said.

Morgenstern photographed several children’s events for the Spokane YMCA but had no direct contact with children through that organization, said Steve Tammaro, CEO of the YMCA of the Inland Northwest.

Those photos were used on the YMCA’s website and blogs, Tammaro said. Morgenstern photographed a YMCA basketball event at the Spokane Valley Mall as recently as last summer, Tammaro said.

The YMCA never received any complaints about Morgenstern, the CEO said.

The investigation is ongoing, and Allen said other search warrants were being served Wednesday. Detectives were again at Morgenstern’s home Wednesday before his second arrest. He has no previous criminal history, Allen said.

He works at the Spokane VA hospital as a doctor of osteopathic medicine. He has been licensed to practice medicine in Washington since 2008.

John Stucke contributed to this report.

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