A man who once served as NBC’s chief medical on-air correspondent in Los Angeles pleaded no contest Monday on charges that he solicited nude photos of a child after apologizing to the victim’s family and hugging her father in a downtown courtroom.
Dr. Bruce Hensel, 74, pleaded not once to contact a minor with 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 the Los Angeles Police Department in 2019 on charges that he contacted an acquaintance’s 9-year-old daughter and asked her for nude photos.
There was little doubt about Hensel’s guilt. A transcript of the text messages was included in a file filed with the state’s medical board last year, showing Hensel repeatedly asking the girl for photos that were “sexy and private.” But prosecutors and Hensel’s attorney, Leonard Levine, had been negotiating the terms of a plea deal for months.
Turning to the victim’s father in court, Hensel spoke of his faith in God, of seeking forgiveness and rededicating to the Lord. He said he had never done anything like this before and would never do it again.
“I’m very sorry about 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 that he had betrayed his calling as a healer.
“Dr. Bruce, you have crossed the line and violated the vow of your profession, which is to do no harm,” the man said.
Hensel, who was longtime NBC’s chief 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 discussed financing a movie starring the girl, then 9.
“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 might be able to make you a star if you’re willing to take some risks.”
The case received renewed attention last year, after a Times investigation found Hensel had retained the former Los Angeles County Dist. Attention. Steve Cooley as a consultant on the case. Cooley said he was only being held 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 ex-DA had also emerged as a leading figure in the effort to recall progressive Dist. Attention. George Gascon at the time.
The recall was largely based on the argument that Gascon’s policy was “soft on crime,” and Cooley’s decision to help Hensel drew 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 with NBC ended.
Hensel worked for the network for over 30 years and won several awards while co-hosting the series ‘Health Fax’. According to his online biography, he also served as co-director of two Southern California emergency rooms, Century City Hospital and San Dimas Community Hospital.