A man who once served as NBC’s chief on-air medical correspondent in Los Angeles pleaded no contest Monday to charges he solicited nude pictures from a child, after apologizing to the victim’s family and hugging her father inside a downtown courtroom.
Dr. Bruce Hensel, 74, pleaded no contest to one count of contacting a minor with the intent to commit a crime and was immediately ordered to register as a sex offender and sentenced to two years of probation. Hensel was first arrested by Los Angeles police in 2019 on accusations that he contacted the 9-year-old daughter of an acquaintance and asked her for nude photos.
There was little doubt about Hensel’s guilt. A transcript of the text messages was included in a filing submitted to the state Medical Board last year, and showed Hensel repeatedly asking the girl for photos that were “sexy and private.” But prosecutors and Hensel’s defense attorney, Leonard Levine, had been haggling over the terms of a plea deal for months.
Turning to face the victim’s father in court, Hensel spoke of his faith in God, and seeking forgiveness. He said he had never done anything like this before and never would again.
“I’m terribly sorry for what happened. I’ve done everything I can to understand this isolated thing,” Hensel said.
The victim’s father, whose identity was withheld to protect the underage victim in the case, hugged Hensel and said he forgave him. Earlier in the hearing, the man told Hensel he had betrayed his calling as a healer.
“Dr. Bruce, you crossed the line and violated the vow of your profession, which is to cause no harm,” the man said.
Hensel — who had long served as NBC’s chief on-air medical correspondent in New York and Los Angeles — repeatedly texted the child from March to August 2019, according to records submitted to the medical board. Hensel knew the victim through her mother, and the two had been discussing financing a movie in which the girl, then 9, would star.
“I have always been good special friends and you feel safe with me so I will protect you and get you something,” Hensel wrote in 2019, records show. “They could maybe make you a star if you are willing to take some risks.”
The case gained renewed attention last year, after a Times investigation found Hensel had retained former Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley as a consultant on the case. Cooley said he was only retained as an expert on a policy he wrote while in office that could affect whether or not Hensel was ordered to register as a sex offender.
The former district attorney was a leading figure in the effort to recall progressive Dist. Atty. George Gascón at the time, a push largely predicated on arguing that Gascón’s policies were “soft on crime.” Cooley’s decision to aid Hensel drew cries of hypocrisy and criticism even within the recall movement, sources told The Times last year.
Last year, an NBC spokeswoman referred to Hensel as a “former employee.” She declined to say if Hensel was fired or resigned, or when the doctor’s employment at NBC ended.
Hensel worked for the network for over 30 years and won several awards while serving as the co-host of the series “Health Fax.” He has also served as co-director of two emergency rooms in Southern California, Century City Hospital and San Dimas Community Hospital, according to his online biography.