Former University of Kentucky administrator sentenced to 20 years for sexual abuse

Judge provides maximum allowed in sexual-abuse case

jhewlett@herald-leader.comDecember 4, 2010 

Robert S. Tannenbaum, a former University of Kentucky administrator and educator, was sentenced Friday to 20 years in prison on four counts of first-degree sexual abuse.

Prosecutors had recommended a five-year sentence on each count of first-degree sexual abuse. Fayette Circuit Judge James Ishmael agreed with them and ordered that sentences be served consecutively. Tannenbaum, 68, was taken into custody immediately.

Before he was sentenced, Tannenbaum, flanked by his attorneys Patrick Nash and Pam Ledgewood, spoke to the judge, saying "I know what I did is terrible, devastating." He said he was entirely to blame for his actions.

"Why I did them is what I'm trying to understand," he said.

Nash told the judge that Tannenbaum had expressed a striking level of genuine remorse. Nash said his client also had, on his own, started undergoing therapy for his problem and had apologized to his victim, telling the victim that what had happened was not the victim's fault. Tannenbaum, he said, had lost his family and his career and has had health problems since his arrest and indictment.

As a result of his actions, Tannenbaum said, he had lost what was most precious to him, his wife and the victim. The Herald-Leader does not generally identify victims of sexual abuse.

"I don't know that I have the words to describe this horror," Ishmael said before sentencing Tannenbaum. The judge also said he was "just mystified" by letters of support that he had received. He said he could not imagine that people in the community, knowing what Tannenbaum had done, would write such letters.

Among several letters written to Ishmael on Tannenbaum's behalf were letters from state Sen. Kathy Stein and UK President Lee T. Todd Jr.

In March, Tannenbaum was charged with four counts of incest, stemming from sexual abuse that occurred between August 1998 and June 1999. The victim was in middle school at the time.

Tannenbaum was director of the undergraduate research office in UK's undergraduate education office when he was arrested in March. He was placed on administrative leave after his arrest. He retired from UK in April, UK spokesman Jay Blanton said.

Under a plea deal with prosecutors, Tannenbaum pleaded guilty in September to four counts of first-degree sexual abuse.

Tannenbaum's sentence was the maximum allowed. Had he been convicted of four counts of incest, another 20 years was the most time he could have received. But conviction on the incest charges would have made him ineligible for probation or parole, his attorneys said.

Tannenbaum must complete a sex-offender treatment program while he is incarcerated before parole may be considered, something that could take years, Nash said. Ledgewood said there is a long waiting list for the prison sex-offender treatment program.

Tannenbaum told the judge he had been volunteering at the Catholic Action Center and was in the process of becoming a volunteer at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Nash asked that Tannenbaum receive a probated sentence with substantial community service. Nash said that Tannenbaum's risk for recidivism was low.

But Ishmael, just before handing down the sentence, said he was instituting a program where there would be no risk of recidivism. The judge said that, due to Tannenbaum's position of trust and the egregiousness and violent nature of the acts he committed, he could not grant probation.

Tannenbaum, who began working at UK in 1991, held several titles during his tenure at the university.

Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.

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