Utah County doctor takes plea deal

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PROVO -- An Orem plastic surgeon accused of holding his girlfriend hostage and later saying police and media made up the story, pleaded guilty to kidnapping as part of a plea deal.

Dr. Joseph Berg appeared in Fourth District Court Tuesday morning wearing a green jail jumpsuit and shackles. He accepted a plea deal that drops several charges in exchange for his guilty plea.

Berg was expected to be released from jail later Tuesday. Under the plea deal, he must get substance abuse treatment as he waits to be sentenced in February. Prosecutors doubt he will face any prison time because he doesn't have any significant past criminal history.

His attorney, Rhome Zabriskie, explained, "He had a back surgery a couple of years ago and he went through a very difficult divorce and became addicted to substances. It's a common story that we deal with in criminal defense. He needs to get that problem under control before he's going to be allowed to go back into practice."

Zabriskie said if Berg can stay out of trouble for three years and solve his substance abuse problems, his felony charges will be changed to misdemeanors and Berg hopes to eventually get his medical license back.

Berg was charged with aggravated kidnapping, a first- degree felony, possession of a controlled substance, two counts of use of a firearm by a restricted person, all third-degree felonies, and misdemeanor assault.

Berg was charged with kidnapping his live-in girlfriend after she made a 911 call last November. In the 30 minute call, Berg is heard yelling at the woman, accusing her of cheating, while she sounds as if she's in pain. Police eventually entered Berg's home and found the woman tied up with medical tape in a closet.

Since then the victim has been unwilling to work with prosecutors and wanted all the charges dropped, but prosecutors say there was too much evidence to do nothing.

Deputy Utah County Attorney Craig Johnson said, "People who abuse women and who think they can intimidate and financially withhold other coercion and control over them, it's not going to matter. We are still going to hold them to the full extent of the law and they are going to end up pleading guilty to a felony like Dr. Berg did today."

In an interview on Nov. 9, Berg said his girlfriend had been drinking and he restrained her to prevent her from driving. The day before, however, the girlfriend said the two had been arguing. She said Berg thought she was cheating and tied her up to keep her from running away.

Berg was arrested and taken to jail Monday after he was three hours late for a court hearing.

E-mail: rjeppesen@ksl.com

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Randall Jeppesen


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