Florence Fruehan, the former physician who had a thriving practice in Palm Coast, is set to plea to a felony count of battery on a woman 65 or older at a court hearing Friday, the result of allegations that he sexually groped patients in his office.
The plea agreement–which may still change, depending on the judge’s actions–would result in one of the two felony counts against Fruehan, 60, being dropped, along with a misdemeanor count. He would plead guilty or no contest to the remaining felony count. He would be sentenced to 24 months’ probation, which he can terminate after 12 months should he meet all the conditions. He would also be required to have a mental health evaluation, have no contact with his victims, and never again practice medicine.
The hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. before Circuit Judge Terence Perkins. The judge may choose to withhold adjudication. That’s not uncommon in cases involving individuals guilty of their first third-degree felony, though Fruehan has faced numerous charges in the past–misdemeanors and a grave felony. Until now, he’d managed to have the charges dropped every time. He faced misdemeanor battery charges in 1995 and 1996. He faced a sexual battery complaint in 2006, a second-degree felony, that mirrored the issues raised in more recent complaints. The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office also charged him criminally in late 2018, but the State Attorney had to drop the charge because the statute of limitations expired.
Though that’s not part of the plea agreement, Fruehan will have to relinquish his seat on the East Flagler Mosquito Control board. Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended him from the three-member elected panel by executive order in January.
Fruehan’s plea is the culmination of a case that began with an investigation by the state health department into allegations of improprieties by Fruehan toward female patients. The long-time patient, 54 at the time, had gone to Furehan’s office (Palm Coast Urgent Care) to refill a prescription to control seizures. Fruehan provided the prescription, then took the woman into a room without anyone else present and allegedly groped her breasts after asking her if she’d had a mammogram. The incident would turn out to be a template for at least four documented similar incidents women reported to the sheriff’s office after the sheriff re-opened an investigation of Fruehan. Other women spoke to the investigators but not for the record.
The state investigation led to Fruehan surrendering his physician’s license, ending the state’s involvement–but not the sheriff’s. The local investigation continued, pointing to several alleged victims with similar accounts, and a misdemeanor charge against Fruehan in late September (the charge dropped because of the statute of limitations). Months later the sheriff’s office followed by the State Attorney filed the felony charges. Fruehan, of 15 Flagship Drive in Palm Coast, was booked at the Flagler County jail on Jan. 16 and within two hours posted bail on $10,000 bond.
The progression of the case in court was as revealing as the sheriff’s investigation.
Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark filed a motion seeking to introduce what’s called “similar fact evidence” at trial, if it would go that far, so that even if Fuehan was on trial for one charge involving one woman, the prosecutor could introduce facts relating to four women to show the pattern behind Fruehan’s behavior. Fruehan, represented by attorney Warren Lindsay, filed a motion to object, and an additional motion to suppress various communications between Fruehan and law enforcement.
Some of those communications included “controlled phone calls,” or recorded calls, where Fruehan would be at one end and his alleged victim on the other, being recorded by law enforcement (with the victim’s agreement), or even law enforcement play-acting the role of a victim’s relative, as was the case in two instances.
The sheriff’s detective Annie Conrad was the lead investigator throughout. One individual, the boyfriend of a woman who alleged she’d been inappropriately touched by Fruehan, agreed to wear a wire–a recording device–and attempt to have a conversation with Fruehan. The man and Fruehan did so in Fruehan’s office. Weeks later, Cpl. George Hristakopoulos, also a detective working with Conrad, pretended to be the adult son of one of the victims and confronted Fruehan over the phone.
Fruehan’s motion to suppress those calls describes them as an “egregious violation” of his right to counsel. Fruehan’s attorney said the conduct was so “obviously outrageous” that the judge should dismiss the entire case. The state counter-argued that all those conversations took place last fall, while Fruehan’s “right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment did not begin until he was formally charged on January 9, 2019.”
On July 10, Perkins granted a hearing time to hear all the motions. That’s actually what was scheduled for Friday–until Fruehan, somewhere along the line, decided that he did not want to go to trial, and on Wednesday agreed to the plea agreement.