TAMPA — When Carole Lenhart went to see Daniel R. Lerom in late May, she says she received the same kind of family counseling she’d gotten a half-dozen times or so in the past from the Tampa psychologist.
But Lerom had been banned from practicing psychology since January, after state regulators concluded he’d had sex with another patient, billed her insurance company for those sessions and took her prescription pain medications.
To avoid further prosecution by the state, in mid May Lerom voluntarily relinquished his license and promised to “cease practicing psychology.” But Lerom still has his office open.
State regulators said Thursday that Lerom should have closed his office and stopped seeing patients as a result of the disciplinary action.
“I was horrified,” said Lenhart, who learned about the state’s actions against Lerom through a friend after her late May session with him. “This man should have an obligation to tell me he could no longer do family therapy and he never said a word to me about it.”
Lerom, whose office still bears the sign “Plaza Therapy Associates, Daniel R. Lerom, Psy., D,” declined comment this week. (Psy. D refers to his doctorate in psychology.)
After Lenhart demanded her $95 payment back, Lerom left her a voice mail in which he explained why he hadn’t mentioned he had lost his license.
Describing his affair as a “fatal attraction situation,” Lerom said he was “under the assumption” that everyone knew of his troubles, which had been widely reported in the local media.
“I can’t explain every single thing that was discussed in the paper, uh, 80 percent of which was not true, but to protect my family I relinquished my license and not put them through that,” he said in the phone message.
Lerom, 49, insisted he acted legally in treating Lenhart.
“I am still qualified to do relationship coaching and personal life coaching, um, under the contract that we discussed,” Lerom said. “It’s just not, um, I’m not allowed to call it professional clinical psychology.”
A spokeswoman for the Health Department said Thursday that while Lerom does not need a license for relationship coaching, “what may have been occurring may well be unlicensed activity.”
Though state law prohibits the department from acknowledging an ongoing investigation, she said the department is “diligent” in looking into any complaints.
Lenhart said Lerom never mentioned any “contract” for coaching during the May session.
“I didn’t need to be coached,” said Lenhart, a certified public accountant who lives on Treasure Island. “And if he had said we were having a ‘coaching’ session instead of a family counseling session, I would have caught on that something was different. But it was absolutely the same as counseling sessions we’d had in the past.”
Lenhart, 53, initially sent one of her children to see Lerom following Lenhart’s divorce a few years ago. Though the teen stopped seeing Lerom last year after a few sessions, calling them worthless, the mother got the child’s permission to continue discussing their issues with Lerom.
Lenhart said she stopped going to Lerom earlier this year because she was too busy. When she happened to run into Lerom in the lobby of his office building on West Kennedy Boulevard in early May when he still had his license, Lenhart agreed to an appointment.
“I felt backed into a corner,” she said of the pressure from Lerom, whose license had been suspended by the state at the time of the encounter. “He’s the one who really pushed for the appointment.”
By the time she went in to see Lerom on May 26, 11 days had passed since the state accepted his offer to relinquish his license.
Lerom promised to never reapply for a license to practice any kind of health care profession in Florida. He also can no longer call himself a psychologist. However, he is not restricted from continuing to use the title of “doctor” because he holds a doctorate from Florida Institute of Technology.
Lerom’s legal troubles began with a complaint from an unnamed patient in November. The woman, who has a civil suit pending against Lerom, started seeing the psychologist in 1995 for marriage counseling.
The state’s investigation said Lerom stopped providing therapy in early February 2009 and the two started a sexual relationship. Under Florida law, it is a felony for a licensed health care professional to have sex with a patient or former patient, though there is no record of criminal charges against Lerom.
In one text message during the three-month affair Lerom wrote, “If I were there i would rub u all over and kiss u all over!!! thats the dr. dan cure!!! XOXOXO.” Other messages in the state report show that he asked her to share prescription pain pills.
In March 2009, he texted her, “needing more percocet or oxycodone for my back! wantf to know if u could get some for torrmw?!?”
The relationship ended abruptly when Lerom’s wife discovered a text message between the two. Shortly after, the woman was hospitalized for depression and anxiety which her psychiatrist said were due to the breakup.
The state said Lerom charged the woman’s insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, more than $1,170 for therapy on 10 occasions when the pair met for sex.
In his voice mail to Lenhart on June 14, Lerom said he could not speak publicly about his situation because, “I’ve been advised to not respond to anything in hopes, um, to get issues resolved as quickly as possible. So I apologize for the, obviously, for the lack of understanding there.”
Though Lerom told Lenhart he believed she had paid only $60 to $80 “coaching charges” for their session on May 26, he refunded her credit card $95, the hourly fee he had charged as a psychologist. Lenhart said her canceled check shows she paid $95 for the May appointment.