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Former Pine Ridge IHS doctor receives multiple life sentences for child sexual abuse
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Former Pine Ridge IHS doctor receives multiple life sentences for child sexual abuse

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Weber trial

Stanley Patrick Weber is pictured in this passport photograph from the 1990s. 

A former pediatrician with the Indian Health Service will spend the rest of his life in prison for sexually abusing four Native American boys over a 12-year period in Pine Ridge. 

"Innocence was lost and cannot be returned" to these "vulnerable and totally innocent" victims, Judge Jeffrey Viken said Monday before sentencing Stanley Patrick Weber. "You have taken lives" not in the literal sense, but have caused your victims to carry the pain of your abuse with them forever, Viken said while staring at the emotionless defendant.

Weber, 71, was sentenced before a packed courtroom at the federal building in Rapid City to the maximum punishments for all eight of his crimes: five life sentences for aggravated sexual abuse and 15-year sentences for his three convictions of sexually abusing minors. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Collins said this was the first time she's requested a life sentence when it wasn't mandatory because such a punishment "is absolutely deserved here."

Viken, who said it was his first time handing down such a sentence, said this is the most egregious case of someone abusing their position of power he's seen in his 42 years of defending, prosecuting and judging sexual predators. As an IHS doctor, Weber's role was to help, not harm, his patients who were growing up on one of the poorest reservations in the country and whose rights to health care are enshrined in treaties. 

He ordered Weber to serve all eight of his sentences consecutively and with his 18-year sentence for committing similar crimes in Montana to recognize the fact that each victim was harmed by each separate act of abuse. 

Viken also ordered Weber — whose $8,000 monthly government pension keeps adding to his $1.47 million net worth — to pay an $800,000 fine to the U.S. government and an $800 mandatory assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund. Restitution for the victims will be determined at a later date. 

One of Weber's lawyers argued that Viken should consider his client's age and existing Montana sentence during the technical sentencing calculation phase of the hearing. But Weber never spoke and, in a rare move, none of his three lawyers made any arguments when it came time for the formal sentencing. 

Weber, who most recently lived in Spearfish, was convicted in September 2019 of sex crimes he committed against boys as young as 9 between 1999 and 2011 at the IHS and his home in Pine Ridge. 

The jury found Weber guilty after listening to three days of testimony from four official victims, two victims from Weber's Montana trial (one who testified in person and one whose previous trial testimony was read aloud) and a Pine Ridge man who said he was abused at age 16, the federal age of consent. Others, including federal agents who investigated the case and IHS staff who worked and lived next to Weber, also spoke. Weber did not testify.

'Reign of terror'

"Dr. Weber's reign of terror is over, and this sentence will ensure that he will never roam free again," Ron Parsons, U.S. Attorney for South Dakota, told the Journal after the sentencing hearing. But "today was about the victims, today was about the men who were irreparably damaged by the conduct of Mr. Weber."

A victim in a bright-red shirt cried as he approached a podium and explained that he needs help but can't trust the IHS. For years, the man said, he thought he was the only victim, but he now knows there are many more who are too afraid to come forward. 

The man's mother looked directly at Weber and called him "an evil person." 

"You took my child's childhood from him" and he's still struggling as an adult, she said. God will judge you, she said as Weber nodded his head. 

Another victim in a white shirt said he was a "good kid" before he met Weber. 

A third victim held a microphone in his cuffed hands and teared up as he explained that he wasn't planning on testifying, but the other victims gave him the courage to speak up. 

The man, who's serving a prison sentence in South Dakota, looked towards the audience as he explained that Weber has made him view everyone as a possible predator. He then nodded at the other victims and encouraged them to "stay strong." 

The fourth victim was too upset to testify in person, Collins said. But Collins said he wanted Viken to know that Weber has made intimate relations difficult and that he avoids going to the IHS even though he needs medical help. He said he doesn't understand how Weber could do what he did and fears that his own children will become victims one day. 

Weber "ruined my life" and justice should mean more than Weber going to prison, said a fifth man who testified at trial. "I have something on my back that I can't take off." 

The man — who was not an official victim at the trial since he was the federal age of consent when Weber allegedly began abusing him — said Weber's actions made him struggle with trust issues, suicidal thoughts and alcohol. 

Julian Bear Runner, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, revealed that he was treated by Weber when he was 15 and got an "upsetting feeling" in his stomach when Weber told him that he didn't need to bring his parents to the next appointment. He looked towards the victims and said they could have been in his place if Weber hadn't harmed them. 

Mark Butterbrodt, a former IHS doctor, said it was "commonly known what (Weber) was doing" as soon as he arrived in Pine Ridge in 1995. But the IHS, FBI, journalists, the tribal council and a state medical organization turned a blind eye or failed to conduct thorough investigations after Butterbrodt complained. 

He said the IHS retaliated against his reports by withholding pay, threatening to fire him and transferring him to location away from his autistic son. But Butterbrodt said he persisted because he wanted justice for the victims. 

Butterbrodt's complaints were finally taken seriously when Elaine Yellow Horse — then a prosecutor for the OST — remembered in 2015 that Butterbrodt had told her about Weber years ago, according to a Wall Street Journal/Frontline investigation. Yellow Horse reached out to Tatewin Means — the OST attorney general at the time — and after tracking down a victim, they passed his name along to investigators. Weber was finally charged in 2017 after an investigation spearheaded by Fred Bennett, a now-retired agent with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Curt Muller, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"When I first started investigating it, I didn't think it was going to come this far" since Weber was a wealthy white man targeting Native Americans, Yellow Horse said after the hearing. 

"What I'm most excited about is the young men who came forward and how they can start healing," said Yellow Horse, who's now studying law at the University of South Dakota. 

Next steps  

It's unclear if Weber will continue to be detained at the Pennington County Jail while he awaits trial on two new charges in South Dakota and serves his 18-year prison sentence after a Montana jury convicted him of four sexual abuse crimes against two boys on the Blackfeet Reservation, where he worked at the IHS in Browning from 1992-1995 before coming to Pine Ridge.

Accusations about Weber sexually abusing boys circulated among his co-workers, patients and the wider community when he worked at both IHS locations, the WJS/Frontline investigation found. But some complaints were ignored and not investigated, while others resulted in investigations that cleared him of any wrongdoing.

There are three completed or ongoing investigations studying IHS's handling of the Weber case and how to prevent such future abuse, and the IHS is facing a lawsuit from three men who say Weber abused them in Browning. Politicians and government agencies are also working to prevent Weber from receiving his pension

"Justice has been delivered today," IHS Director Michael Weahkee said in an emailed statement. "The actions of this individual were reprehensible, and we sincerely regret the harm caused to the children involved."

Weahkee said the IHS is "committed to ensuring a culture of quality, leadership and accountability" and "protecting our patients and preventing their harm to the best of our ability" but the agency recognizes "that rebuilding trust will take time."

He encouraged Weber's victims to call the IHS anonymous hotline at 301-443-0658 to set up free counseling services at the IHS or with an outside provider. 

Therapists attended the sentencing to support the men who testified, and Health and Human Services has reached out to all formal victims and offered to connect them with counseling services, Parsons told the Journal. 

— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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