SPRINGFIELD – A federal judge on Friday sentenced Mani Batchu, a 32-year-old adolescent psychiatrist from Chicago, to three decades in prison for luring teen girls into sexual relationships over the Internet.
Batchu’s victims included a 15-year-old from South Hadley – who appeared along with her family in U.S. District Court for the sentencing – and two more unknown girls FBI agents found were featured in sexually explicit home videos when they seized his computer in 2009.
The South Hadley teen sobbed in court as her father and mother spoke, telling a story of the unraveling of their family after she met Batchu. The doctor preyed on her with a barrage of text messages, endless phone calls, flowers, gifts and songs he penned for her, according to investigators and the girl’s statement in court.
U.S. District Judge Michael A. Ponsor, who typically trends toward the lighter end of a hefty sentencing guideline range, bypassed the bottom end of the spectrum and gave Batchu the maximum 30 years behind bars. Batchu capped a lengthy sentencing hearing by, in a puzzling move, taking the witness stand and launching into a monologue that included suggesting a moment of silence for all the victims involved.
“No,” Ponsor said curtly.
Batchu pleaded guilty earlier this year to multiple charges related to transporting a minor and traveling across state lines for illicit sex. He apologized to the South Hadley victim, “Minor A,” her family, his parents and his colleagues at the University of Chicago School of Medicine. Of Indian descent, Batchu and his defense lawyer intimated that it was culturally appropriate to court a significantly younger girl as a wife, and he was casting about on the web for lifetime companionship.
Ponsor rejected the cultural defense and seemed otherwise unpersuaded.
“I have a very, very strong sense that you are a supreme phony and what we just heard was a pretentious, frothy, narcissistic performance,” the judge said. “I have not seen a more determined course of criminal conduct in 28 years on the bench.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven H. Breslow told Ponsor that Batchu went to great lengths to have sex with the girl, including catching a flight from Chicago in one instance and making the 16-hour drive straight though in another. He even continued stalking the girl after her parents called police, had been arrested in Chicago and had been charged criminally in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
He initally told Minor A his name was “Mark Taylor,” significantly low-balled his age and sent a fake photo, Breslow said in court, and then roped the girl in with charm, wit and promises of a secure future.
“The defendant used all of his skills … his charm and intelligence, and his ability to relate to people in general and children in particular,” Breslow said. “This was a truly perverted courtship.”
Batchu even traveled to Massachusetts to give the girl a “secret cell phone” when her mother took hers away, and secretly flew to Florida for a clandestine meeting while the family was on vacation to escape the trauma of the investigation.
The girl’s father told Ponsor that the experience has all but emotionally debilitated his daughter, unable to complete her senior year of high school and barely able to leave her bed most days. Tragically, the experience drove one of three sons to suicide, the man said.
“This horrendous episode has had a devastating effect on my family,” he said. “(My daughter) is depressed, guilt-ridden and unable to function.”
Minor A submitted a written statement her mother read to the court.
“He was always just a text message or a phone call away … He got me to do things a 15-year-old should never know about,” her statement read.
Batchu was expressionless when Ponsor delivered the withering assessment of Batchu’s remarks to the court after handing down the sentence. However, he chatted pleasantly with his friends and family members in the courtroom before the proceeding began, reporting that he has been very busy in prison.
“Im reading a lot of books. I don’t even think I read this many books in medical school,” he said with a smile.