Not in cult: Woman gets $7.5 million

Chicago Sun-Times/February 12, 2004
By Abdon M. Pallasch

This is not "The X-Files" or a supermarket tabloid story -- it is a real court case settled this week at the Daley Center.

Rush North Shore Medical Center psychiatrist Bennett Braun and psychologist Roberta Sachs paid a northwest suburban woman $7.5 million to settle her claim that they brainwashed her into believing she was a member of a cult and needed to be sterilized so she would not bear any more babies to be sacrificed for the cult.

The truth is that Elizabeth Gale, 52, never had any children. She was just a woman with mild depression who surrendered herself to the care of Braun in 1986.

"At the time, Dr. Braun and his team were recognized national experts in multiple personality syndrome, recovery of repressed memories of childhood abuse, etc.," said Mary Ellen Busch, attorney for Rush, which denies the charges. "Over the last 10 years, the methods by which repressed memories were recovered have become very controversial."

Braun, Sachs and their practices have since been banished from Rush. The state suspended Braun's psychiatry license for three years, although he's now practicing in Montana. The state reprimanded Sachs, who is now in Maryland. Their attorneys could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Braun and Sachs "convinced Ms. Gale she had dozens of different personalities which had been created as a result of the horrific trauma they told her she suffered as a child," said her attorney, Todd Smith of Power Rogers & Smith. Smith takes over this summer as president of the American Trial Lawyers Association.

He said Braun and Sachs "convinced Ms. Gale she was a member of a worldwide secret ... satanic cult ... that Ms. Gale was a 'breeder' for the cult and that she had sacrificed her previous children, when she in fact had never had children," Smith said. Braun and Sachs "instructed Ms. Gale to undergo a tubal ligation to avoid further 'cult pregnancies.' She did so in May of 1991."

They persuaded Gale to abandon her family, change her name more than once, quit her job and sell all her possessions to stay a step ahead of the alleged "cult," Smith said.

Their strategy with Gale mirrored the approach they took with Patricia Burgus, with whom many of the same defendants settled for $10.6 million in 1997, Smith said. Braun had Burgus convinced she was "high priestess" of the alleged cult.

Neither Braun nor Sachs has ever been criminally charged for their actions with Gale, Burgess or other patients in their repressed memory therapy. A federal prosecutor in Houston filed fraud charges against a colleague of theirs in Texas but did not secure a conviction.

The repressed-memory practice Braun helped make popular in the late '80s has since been largely discredited, but the damage has been done, Smith said. He has asked himself over the last several years how a reputable hospital like Rush could have been duped by the dubious psychiatry.

"It brings revenue into the hospital," Smith said. "They don't monitor closely what goes on in the hospital. I can't figure out myself why insurance companies allowed this to go on, paid for by insurance. Why do we have a dozen patients at a time sitting over there on the floor at Rush alone diagnosed with 'multiple personality disorder based on satanic ritual abuse'?"

Federal law prohibits Busch from commenting on particular patients' cases, Busch said, but in court filings, the hospital denied Gale's claims. Rush North Shore will pay $3.6 million of the settlement, and the downtown hospital will pay $150,000. The rest of the claim will be paid by Sachs, Braun and Dr. Corydon Hammond.

Asked if he thought Braun really believed his diagnoses, Smith said, "Patty Burgus had a cap on her insurance payments of about $3 million. When she got up to the $2.8 million point, it was at that point at which she no longer was an inpatient. It appeared to us there may have been a connection with the insurance availability."

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