WHITEFISH - A reclusive millionaire known for having built a mansion on Flathead Lake's Cromwell Island was sentenced Wednesday for violently groping a female paramedic aboard his private jet.
Robert M. Lee, 84, who lives full time in Reno, Nev., assaulted a paramedic-respiratory specialist in September 2010 while traveling to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., on his private airplane. He was charged with one count of misdemeanor assault last June and pleaded guilty to the offense in July.
On Wednesday morning in federal court in Minneapolis, Minn., U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur J. Boylan sentenced Lee to 180 days of probation, including 30 days of home confinement. He also ordered Lee to perform 60 hours of community service at a Nevada humane society, pay a $5,000 fine, and provide the victim $431.25 in restitution along with a letter of apology. In imposing the sentence, Boylan called Lee's behavior "arrogant and offensive."
The maximum penalty for a conviction on the assault charge is six months behind bars. The case was brought in federal court because the offense occurred while the aircraft was in flight.
Lee gained local notoriety in the mid-1990s by building a $25 million mansion on Cromwell Island, which he also owns. A sportsman and outfitter, Lee made his initial fortune developing planned communities on properties owned by his family in Long Island, N.Y.
He has historically eschewed public attention, conducting his affairs in private and granting exclusive access only to his island home. Lee has purchased several pieces of property in the Flathead Lake area, including Cromwell Island, which at 342 acres is the second-largest island on the lake. It is located on the west shore, near the town of Dayton.
He also owns homes in New York, Reno, Nev., Ennis and Dayton.
According to charging papers filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura M. Provinzino, the assault occurred while Lee was being ferried on his private Gulfstream jet from Show Low, Ariz., to the hospital in Rochester, Minn.
Two women accompanied Lee on the flight and are identified in court records only as a paramedic and respiratory therapist with the initials "M.L." and a registered nurse with the initials "M.D." Lee was under the care of the women following an emergency room visit, for which the precise reasons are unknown.
At one point during the flight, while M.L. assisted Lee in returning from the bathroom to his seat, he "forcibly and violently grabbed and twisted the nipple of M.L.'s right breast, causing M.L. substantial pain," records state.
The woman immediately pushed Lee's hand away and told him, "You do not get to touch me like that. Do not do that again!" the records state, to which Lee responded, "I can do whatever I want. This is my airplane."
Undeterred, Lee then reached across the aisle of the airplane and gestured to M.D. with his thumb and forefinger in a pinching motion, stating, "That's what I am going to do to you."
M.D. told Lee that he was not allowed to touch medical crew in that manner, and he responded with a similar sense of entitlement, telling the woman "on my airplane, I can do whatever I want."
Lee then told M.D. that she should be wearing a V-neck shirt so that he could slide his hand in her shirt more easily.
An attorney representing Lee in the case submitted 13 letters written by friends in support of Lee, and which state that the business leader's behavior was uncharacteristic.
The authors of the letters include former Nevada Sen. William Raggio, who wrote that Lee "has been a trusted friend for all these years and this conduct is entirely out of character for him," and the Rev. William Watson, who officiated Robert and Anne Lee's marriage in December 2009 and asked Boylan to impose a lenient sentence.
"I can't fathom Mr. Lee engaging in any intentional conduct detrimental to another. ... I have never observed any aggressive behavior by this stately, gentle man," Watson wrote.
But in a sentencing memorandum filed this week, prosecutor Provinzino wrote that Lee "grossly understated his culpability" during a risk assessment interview in which he accused the women of "being mean" and shoving him.
Provinzino wrote that the consequences of the assault were not minor, and the victim identified as M.D. subsequently left her position as a flight nurse. Victim M.L. experienced pain in her breast for days after the assault, and took umbrage with Lee's accusation that she was unprofessional.
"Not only did Mr. Lee have the audacity to believe he had the right to do whatever he wanted to me on his aircraft, but now he has the audacity to insult my integrity. I am frankly disgusted in his lies and his wrongful behavior," M.L. wrote to the court.
In a separate statement to the court, M.L. wrote: "I have transported patients all over the world and have never in my career had any patient treat me with such disrespect and disregard of my profession. Not only did Mr. Lee attack me while I was taking care of his medical needs, he believed that he had the right to do whatever he wanted to me since I was on his aircraft."
Magistrate Boylan imposed the sentence precisely as it was recommended by Provinzino in a strongly-worded memorandum.
"(Lee's) conduct was arrogant and abusive. He treated the victims as his property, to be used and abused however he saw fit," Provinzino wrote.