On the 119th running of the Boston Marathon, a self-described victim of the 2013 bombings awaits trial for defrauding charities. The doctor providing the alleged charlatan with a post-concussion syndrome evaluation served as a consultant to the retired players’ lawsuit against the NFL and a talking head in Frontline’s “League of Denial” documentary.
“He’s not her doctor,” insisted Sharon Hoover, manager at Dr. Robert Cantu’s office at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Massachusetts, when Breitbart Sports called. “He’s not her doctor.”
“The majority of this patient’s severe cognitive, somatic, mood and sleep symptoms that have completely disrupted her life are due to her post-concussion syndrome,” Cantu wrote of Joanna Leigh. “As a result of these symptoms Dr. Leigh is currently and for the foreseeable future disabled from the kind of complex consulting work she has done before the bomb blast injury was sustained.”
Leigh, judged as sustaining post-traumatic stress disorder and post-concussion syndrome from one of America’s most famous doctors, reportedly received $8,000 from the One Fund set up in the wake of the bombings, $18,000 from the state, and even $1,700 from a local middle school’s collection. She also allegedly pocketed $9,000 from a GoFundMe.com campaign. The Boston Police charge, “That web site refers to Leigh in the third person but evidence suggests it was created, maintained, and updated using her email address.”
Ms. Hoover initially told Breitbart Sports that Dr. Cantu remained “out of town” and unavailable for comment. After vehemently denying Cantu’s status as Leigh’s doctor, Hoover clarified in a brief conversation with Breitbart Sports, “He only evaluated her one time.”
“Dr. Cantu cannot comment on an ongoing legal case,” Hoover subsequently wrote Breitbart Sports via email. “He is not and never was Ms. Leigh’s ‘treating physician.’ At the request of an attorney, he saw her one time to conduct an independent medical examination.”
Upon reading part of Dr. Cantu’s evaluation of Leigh to Jake Wark of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, the press secretary told Breitbart Sports: “The evidence just does not suggest that she was injured in the marathon bombings.” Might Leigh have hoodwinked Dr. Cantu akin to the manner the D.A.’s office insists she hoodwinked various charitable groups? “Oh yeah,” Wark offered. “Absolutely. This is a case of deception—deception of many people across many fields.”
While local authorities may not buy Dr. Cantu’s conclusions drawn about Dr. Leigh, the D.A.’s office acknowledges that Leigh at least attended the marathon “in the area of Copley Square.” Through a review of video, medical, and financial records, as well as “contradictory” statements made by the defendant, the BPD says it built a case that she did not suffer the injuries she maintains she did that enabled her to receive tens of thousands of dollars intended for victims of terrorism rather than mere attendees of the race. Police say she waited two weeks before seeking medical treatment.
“I got blown up,” a teary-eyed Leigh told Boston’s WCVB. “And I got medical records that prove it.”
When asked if the D.A.’s office possessed video contracting Leigh’s claims, Wark answered, “Yes. Video evidence puts her in the area [during] the marathon but it does not support a finding that she was injured by either of the bomb blasts.”
The medical reports cited in several media accounts published long before any hint of the current controversy emanated from Dr. Cantu’s evaluation of Leigh, which came, according to his office, in June of 2013. “I would be surprised if her post-injury course is not an extremely long one,” Cantu wrote in a letter allegedly used by Leigh to seek benefits, “and more probably than not may not be ever greeted with complete resolution.” Whether Leigh produces supplementary evaluations from other doctors, or Cantu buttresses the claims he made in the evaluation with testimony on her behalf, remains for the trial to show.
Leigh’s defense failed to respond to questions on the case, including if her lawyers plan on calling the neurosurgeon to the stand. The district attorney’s office refuses to say whether prosecutors have interviewed the celebrity doctor or plan to call him as a witness once a trial commences. Wark generally divulged, “We’ve undertaken abundant interviews with medical professionals associated with this case and with this defendant.”
This latest sports-related controversy for Dr. Cantu, who wondered after the bombings if chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) possibly afflicted amateur boxer Tamerlan Tsarnaev, follows several scandals and criticism surrounding his football-related work.
• Cantu, who listed an $800-an-hour charge for providing legal services, provoked headlines and disbelief on both sides when ESPN revealed that he pocketed money advising the lawyers for the retired players suing the NFL as he served as an adviser to the NFL’s Head, Neck, and Spine Committee.
• In a piece dubbing him “America’s concussion doctor,” The Boston Globe reported in December of 2013 that Cantu “has been paid to help set helmet safety standards for the National Collegiate Athletic Association while accepting tens of thousands of dollars to submit testimony for players suing the NCAA over head injuries.” Globe reporter Bob Hohler wrote: “The role made him a paid critic of the NCAA’s attention to safety standards at a time when he was helping to set safety standards for NCAA helmets.”
• In Frontline‘s “League of Denial” documentary, Cantu strangely blasts the academic journal Neurosurgery. “They were making comments which were greatly at odds with prospective, double-blinded studies done at the college and the high school level that just weren’t finding the same things,” Cantu told PBS viewers. “And that just didn’t make sense to anyone that’s a scientist.” The comments, coming as they did from the sports science editor of Neurosurgery during the period under criticism, didn’t make much sense to Cantu’s fellow scientists, either.
• In 2007, the New York Times described Cantu as a figure “who has repeatedly criticized the N.F.L.’s handling of concussions.” Five years later, the doctor praised the league as “a force for change.” In between, the NFL donated $1 million to Boston University’s Center for the Study of Chronic Encephalopathy, the research and advocacy group that Cantu co-directs. The league also implemented several new rules related to player safety, such as pushing up the kickoff to effectively ensure more touchbacks, so it may be the case that a general responsiveness to his criticisms rather than the specific grant to his group sparked the shift.
Dr. Robert Cantu again finds himself embroiled in a brain-injury controversy that may necessitate another about-face. And as Joanna Leigh vigorously attempts to prove the magnitude of her injuries in court, the doctor who validated the professed disability of the alleged fraud just as vigorously seeks to persuade the court of public opinion of the negligibility of his involvement with her.