Concord psychologist goes on trial over fondling claim

  • The Merrimack County Courthouse in Concord is seen on Thursday, March 31, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Friday, June 03, 2016

A psychologist accused of fondling an underage patient last year while also practicing with an expired license went on trial Thursday in Concord.

Foad Afshar, 56, of Bow faces one count of aggravated felonious sexual assault and an alternative misdemeanor count of simple assault, as well as two counts of unlawful mental health practice, both misdemeanors. Prosecutors allege that he touched a 12-year-old boy’s genitals during a therapy session on Jan. 6, 2015.

Afshar staunchly denies the allegation.

“It didn’t happen,” defense attorney Tony Soltani told jurors, pausing for emphasis.

Afshar was practicing in Concord at the time, and had been seeing the boy for about six weeks. The sessions were started initially to address the boy’s behavior at school – he’d been acting out, according to prosecutors – but veered into another area: anxiety over an upcoming hernia check.

Prosecutors say Afshar tried desensitizing the boy to fear of the exam by exposing him to less uncomfortable scenarios – touching his arm, for instance, or having the boy touch his own stomach. He also began using an alternative headset device that emits light and noise. The boy said it was during a period when he was wearing the headset that the assault occurred.

The trial is expected to hinge on the boy’s testimony. Prosecutors said Thursday they will also call an expert in child psychology to critique Afshar’s approach as unethical.

Afshar specialized in treating children and young adults. He earned a master’s degree from Harvard University and a doctorate from California Coast University, before going on to found the CLEER Institute in Concord in 2005. He served on the executive board at the New Hampshire Psychological Association and was its president in 2010.

But Assistant County Attorney Joe Cherniske insisted Thursday that Afshar had abused his power and shattered the trust bestowed on him.

“It wasn’t about treatment. It wasn’t about helping,” he told jurors. “This case is about the defendant’s use of a therapy session to sexually assault a 12-year-old patron.”

During the investigation, it was also discovered that Afshar’s license had lapsed at the time of the final sessions with the boy. He was first licensed in New Hamphsire in 2002, and has had to renew it every two years since. But on Dec. 20, 2014 – two weeks before the alleged assault – the license expired. On Jan. 8, Afshar contacted the New Hampshire Board of Mental Health Practice and explained that he had simply forgotten to renew on time.

The trial, in Merrimack County Superior Court, is expected to last five days.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)