Mt. Lebanon man gets 6-12 years for abortions
PHILADELPHIA — Middle-aged, a graduate of a Caribbean medical school just starting to take his licensing exams, looking for work in the job market's offseason — it wasn't surprising Steven Massof had trouble finding a residency program.
So the Mt. Lebanon man snapped at the chance to work at Kermit Gosnell's Women's Medical Society in West Philadelphia: “I wanted to get experience. I wanted to counsel women and their partners about health issues.”
What no one — least of all Massof — could explain to Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner was why he stayed five years, passing himself off as a licensed physician, working under-the-table for $300 a week, performing illegal late-term abortions and killing infants born alive.
On Wednesday, Lerner sentenced Massof to six to 12 years in prison. The judge credited Massof's decision to plead guilty to two counts of third-degree murder and testify against Gosnell but called what happened at the clinic “unspeakably horrible.”
“As evil as Dr. Gosnell was, as charismatic as he may have been, he didn't do this alone,” Lerner said. “He couldn't do this without the assistance of someone like you.”
“I don't know how it started,” Massof, voice cracking as he forced down a sob, told the judge.
“I realize that this is something that's wrong and will never be right and will never go away,” said Massof, 51, who called his work with Gosnell “a horrific part of my life.”
Assistant District Attorney Edward Cameron, who handled the case with fellow prosecutor Joanne Pescatore, argued for a 10- to 20-year prison term.
Despite Massof's cooperation, Cameron said, he had the education, intelligence and training to know what he was doing was wrong — and stop it.
Massof, a 1998 graduate of St. George's Medical School in the West Indies who worked as a bartender and cook before Gosnell hired him in 2003, said he quit in 2008, exhausted by the workload, dismayed by deteriorating clinic conditions and mired in a dispute with a co-worker.
Massof was one of nine Gosnell workers charged in 2011 involving illegal late-term abortions.
Like Gosnell, Massof was charged with first-degree murder for killing infants born live and viable during abortions. He would have faced a possible death sentence if the jury had found him guilty. He pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree murder in exchange for his cooperation with prosecutors.
In May, a Philadelphia jury found Gosnell guilty of three counts of first-degree murder for killing babies born alive during abortions by snipping their spines with scissors. Gosnell, 72, has waived his appeal rights to escape a possible death sentence and is serving three consecutive life sentences.
Three more Gosnell workers await sentencing.
Defense attorneys Jeffrey M. Lindy and Paul M. George argued that Massof deserved leniency because of his cooperation and because of the personal price he has paid.
Lindy said Gosnell has told other inmates Massof is a “snitch.”
Massof has since been threatened and is housed in isolation.
Lindy tried to minimize Massof's participation in abortions, saying he mostly worked upstairs in the clinic's family practice.
Pescatore, however, recounted Massof's trial testimony where he said there were so many abortions at the clinic “I felt like a fireman in hell.”
“That's how many babies were falling out,” the prosecutor added.
Massof is awaiting sentencing in federal court on charges of participating in a thriving “pill mill” by using Gosnell's registration to prescribe controlled drugs to patients at the clinic in 2006 and 2007.
Trib Total Media staff writer Michael Hasch contributed to this report.