Los Angeles Times
Probation for noted L.A. doctor over soliciting of a child
The former chief on-air medical correspondent for NBC in Los Angeles and New York pleaded no contest Monday to charges he solicited nude pictures from a child, after apologizing to the victim’s family.
Dr. Bruce Hensel, 74, pleaded no contest to one count of contacting a minor with the intent to commit a crime. He was ordered to register as a sex offender and sentenced to two years of probation.
Hensel was arrested by Los Angeles police in 2019 on accusations that he contacted the 9-year-old daughter of an acquaintance and asked her for nude photos.
There was little doubt about Hensel’s guilt. A transcript of the text messages, included in a filing submitted last year to the state Medical Board, showed Hensel repeatedly asking the girl for photos that were “sexy and private.”
Prosecutors and Hensel’s defense attorney, Leonard Levine, had been haggling over the terms of a plea deal for months.
Turning to face the victim’s father in court, Hensel said he had never done anything of the type before, and never would again, and spoke of his faith in God.
“I’m terribly sorry for what happened. I’ve done everything I can to understand this isolated thing,” Hensel said.
The father, whose identity was withheld to protect the underage victim, hugged Hensel and said he forgave him. Earlier in the hearing, he told Hensel he had betrayed his calling as a healer.
“Dr. Bruce, you crossed the line and violated the vow of your profession, which is to cause no harm,” the father said.
Hensel repeatedly texted the child from March to August 2019, according to records submitted to the medical board. He knew the victim through her mother; the two had been discussing financing a movie in which the 9-year-old would star.
“I have always been good special friends and you feel safe with me so I will protect you and get you something,” Hensel wrote in 2019, records show. “They could maybe make you a star if you are willing to take some risks.”
The case gained renewed attention last year, after a Times investigation found that Hensel had retained former Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley as a consultant on the case. Cooley said he was retained only as an expert on a policy he wrote while in office that could affect whether Hensel would be ordered to register as a sex offender.
Cooley was a leading figure in the effort at the time to recall progressive Dist. Atty. George Gascón, a push predicated on arguments that Gascón’s policies were “soft on crime.” Cooley’s decision to aid Hensel drew criticism and cries of hypocrisy even from within the recall movement, sources told The Times last year.
Last year, an NBC spokeswoman referred to Hensel as a “former employee.” She declined to say if Hensel was fired or resigned, or when his employment at NBC ended.
Hensel worked for the network for more than 30 years and won several awards as co-host of the series “Health Fax.” He also served as co-director of two Southern California emergency rooms, according to his online biography.