Former Chief Of Cardiology At Palo Alto VA Hospital Pleads Guilty To Sexual Battery Of Subordinate Doctor

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

SAN JOSE – Cardiologist John Giacomini pleaded guilty today to one count of felony abusive sexual contact, announced United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds; Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VA OIG) Special Agent in Charge Jason Root; and Chief of Police of the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Police Service Martin Sizemore.  The guilty plea was accepted by the Honorable Beth L. Freeman, United States District Judge. 

Giacomini, 73, of Atherton, had practiced medicine and cardiology for over 30 years and from 1985 until 2018 was the Chief of the Cardiology Section at the VA Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif. According to the plea agreement, Giacomini acknowledged he occupied a position of significant authority, prestige, and influence within the VA Healthcare System and at Stanford University, where he had a faculty appointment in the School of Medicine.  In addition, Giacomini acknowledged that as the Chief of the Cardiology Section within the VA, he also occupied a position of public trust, with overall responsibility for meeting the needs of the VA patient population.  

As a federal employee for well over 30 years, Giacomini was trained throughout his career on the prevention of workplace sexual assault and sexual harassment.  He was aware that non-consensual sexual contact between supervisors and subordinates is coercive, unethical, and unlawful.  He knew that inappropriate touching, unwanted gifts, and unwelcome sexual comments can create a hostile work environment that unreasonably interferes with the victim’s work performance and adversely affects the victim’s employment opportunities.  As a supervisor and manager, Giacomini had an obligation to the VA and to his subordinates to prevent workplace sexual harassment and disclose any harassing behavior of which he became aware.  

He failed to do this.  Instead, beginning in the fall of 2017, Giacomini repeatedly subjected a subordinate electrophysiologist to unwanted and unwelcome sexual contact, to include hugging, kissing, and intimate touching while on VA premises.  On November 10, 2017, the victim explicitly told Giacomini she was not interested in a romantic or sexual relationship with him.  She also forcibly resisted his repeated attempts to kiss her on the mouth.  

Nevertheless, Giacomini continued to subject his subordinate to unwanted sexual advances and touching, culminating on December 20, 2017, when Giacomini turned out the lights, pulled the victim out of her chair, released the drawstring on her scrub pants and fondled her breast, buttocks, and vagina until a janitor opened the office door and interrupted the encounter.  The victim later resigned from her position at the VA, citing Giacomini’s behavior as her principal reason for leaving.

A federal grand jury indicted Giacomini on March 12, 2020, charging him with one count of abusive sexual contact, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2244(b).  Today, Giacomini pleaded guilty to the charge, which is a felony.  

Judge Freeman scheduled Giacomini’s sentencing for July 12, 2022.  Giacomini faces a maximum sentence of two years of imprisonment, a fine of $250,000, restitution, supervised release, and a special assessment.  However, any sentence following conviction will be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.  

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Marissa Harris and Jeffrey Nedrow are prosecuting the case with the assistance of Nina Burney-Williams, Sahib Kaur, and Susan Kreider.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General and the Veterans Affairs Police Service.