For years, residents of Waterbury, Conn., have benefited from the expertise of local leading eye surgeon Dr. James Coppeto, a former student of the Dartmouth Medical School and employee of St. Mary’s and Waterbury Hospitals.
But after the FBI seized several computers from Coppeto’s home last month, local residents are having trouble reconciling the image of their insightful doctor with that of the man now charged with possessing and importing child pornography.
Police say Coppeto may have been in possession of nearly 1,000 illegal and explicit images of children.
Coppeto pleaded not guilty on all charges last week. If convicted, Coppeto faces up to fifteen years in prison — five years for possession of child pornography, a class D felony, and ten years for importing child pornography, a class C felony.
Coppeto’s employment status at both St. Mary’s Hospital and Waterbury Hospital, where he focused on corrective surgeries and neurological diseases pertaining to opthamology, became the subject of debate following police investigations into the case.
According to a written statement by Michael Matzkin, the current chief of staff at St. Mary’s, Coppetto is on a voluntary leave of absence. He is also still technically a member of the Waterbury staff.
Sheila Hogan, a public relations spokesperson for Waterbury Hospital, was unavailable for contact.
In 1962, Coppeto was offered one of Dartmouth’s highest honors — the National Daniel Webster Scholarship — but turned it down in order to study at Yale University. He earned his undergraduate degree at Yale, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
Subsequent to his graduation, Coppeto matriculated at Dartmouth Medical School. After just two years in Hanover, Coppeto transferred to Harvard Medical School, where he received a degree in opthamology in 1970.
From an early age, Coppeto impressed his peers with his academic achievements, according to childhood acquaintance Marie Knudsen. Knudsen told the Waterbury Republican American that Coppeto was extraordinarily bright and was always willing to share his knowledge.
According to the 1966 Yale University yearbook, the bowling team was the only non-academic organization in which he participated. Coppeto’s primary pursuits were academic ones.
In his hometown of Waterbury, Coppeto graduated as valedictorian from both St. Mary’s Grammar School and Croft High School, where he earned a 99.1 cumulative average.
Local residents of Waterbury, like Coppeto’s high-school classmate Patrick Basil, said that they will likely miss the first-rate care Coppeto provided.
“To have someone like that checking your eyes was a real bonus,” Basil told the Waterbury Republican American last week.
Basil explained that Coppeto decided to practice in Waterbury after receiving numerous offers in other parts of the country.
Coppeto’s father, Dr. C. James Coppeto, served the Waterbury community as a physician for 40 years after graduating from Dartmouth.