California authorities have arrested a brain surgeon and two nurses on charges of child sex abuse in a case allegedly involving at least seven children ranging in age from 3 to 13, PEOPLE confirms.
All three were charged with multiple crimes after an investigation that began May 9 when Watsonville police received information and a video “that showed several adults engaging in lewd acts with children as young as 3 years of age,” police alleged in a statement.
“Based on the evidence at this time, we believe that these individuals were working together,” Watsonville Police Chief David Honda said at a news conference Thursday. “We also believe that we have all suspects associated with this case in custody.”
Police identified Dr. James Kohut, 57, as a traveling doctor with a primary address in Fort Smith, Arkansas, but with additional homes in Tucson, Arizona, and Merced and Santa Cruz, California. He has been charged in California with 10 felonies that include lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14; lewd and lascivious acts with force with a child under 14; and specific sex acts with a child under 10,
Kohut was in court Wednesday, where his attorney, Nick Cvietkovich said, “Dr. Kohut is a renowned neurosurgeon. He has spent his life saving the lives of others,” reports The Mercury News. He has not been formally arraigned nor entered a plea.
The lawyer said in court that the accusations against Kohut aren’t true, reports KION.
Police also identified Rashel Brandon, 42, of Watsonville, a nurse who worked at Dominican Hospital, and Emily Stephens, 29, a nurse living in Tucson, Arizona. Both were charged with lewd and lascivious acts with force with a child under 14; sending harmful matter with intent to seduce a minor; specific sex acts of a child under 10 and sexual acts with force with a child under 14.
Kohut, whose prior affiliations include the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, was fired Monday from an Arkansas medical practice, according to The Mercury News. He also was affiliated with Sutter Maternity and Surgery Center as well as Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz County.
A spokesman for Dominican Hospital tells PEOPLE in a statement: “We are deeply saddened by these serious allegations, and remain steadfast in our commitment to providing high-quality, compassionate care in Santa Cruz County.”
Attorneys for Brandon and Stephens were not immediately identified.
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Watsonville Police say that after receiving the alleged information and video on May 9, Brandon “was quickly identified” and arrested within hours at her Watsonville home. Authorities searched her residence and seized “multiple items” that led them to Stephens, who was arrested days later in Arizona with help from the Pima County Sheriff’s Office.
Further investigation with a San Jose-based criminal task force identified the third suspect, and after carrying out a search warrant and seizing items from Kohut’s Santa Cruz home, police arrested him there on May 14.
Records show Kohut is being held without bond in the Santa Cruz County Jail. Brandon is being held with separate bonds per criminal count that range up to $500,000. Stephens remains in the Pima County Adult Detention center, also without bond.
“This is a complex and disturbing crime that crosses into multiple states and the investigation is still ongoing,” Watsonville police said in their statement.