U.S. takes over case involving Ecstasy

Investigators say doctor also made diet drugs

`Best prosecuted' in federal court

October 26, 2004|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

Minutes before the state drug trial was set to begin yesterday for the man known as "Dr. Bob," federal authorities came into the Calvert Street courtroom and asked for the suited defendant's wrists.

With the click of handcuffs, Robert M. Keenan found himself moved from the state to the federal court system - the latest twist in a case that has taken investigators from what they say was an illegal diet drug manufacturing center in Hampden to a fancy Fells Point condo, where they say Keenan, 45, was cooking and storing millions of dollars worth of Ecstasy.

Both Keenan, who ran the Elite Weight Management Center in Towson, and the man prosecutors have called his chemist, 37-year-old Gerard G. Galvez, had their initial appearances in Baltimore's U.S. District Court yesterday afternoon.

Meanwhile, the two men who were going to be their co-defendants in state court - Ricky Bradley, 44, and Steven Devito, 39 - pleaded guilty before Baltimore Circuit Judge Gale E. Rasin to narcotics counts stemming from the early-morning raid on Keenan's Fells Point home Jan. 23.

In that search, police said they found drug-making tools, thousands of empty capsules, "mounds" of the diet drug Phentermine, lab notes for preparing Ecstasy and a canister filled with bubbling green liquid they say was in the process of being cooked into the drug.

Keenan's condo, as well as a nearby home in the 1100 block of Baylis St., made up a full-fledged Ecstasy lab, police said at the time - something rarely seen in this area.

In the federal system, Keenan will face prosecutors who are generally more successful in securing convictions. If found guilty, he would also face prison sentences typically heftier than those in state court.

"This is just an example of the partnership we have with the U.S. attorney" for Maryland, Thomas M. DiBiagio, said Margaret T. Burns, spokeswoman for City State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy. "Mrs. Jessamy and Mr. DiBiagio - their prosecutors review which cases, in the interest of public safety, are best prosecuted in the federal system."

The federal charges against Keenan - conspiring to unlawfully manufacture over 10 kilograms of Ecstasy; unlawfully manufacturing and possession with intent to manufacture Phentermine HCl; and repackaging drug packages at an unregistered facility - replaced the state charges against him.

Although the federal indictment is new, federal agents have been interested in Keenan for quite a while, according to court papers.

As early as 2001, agents were conducting a criminal investigation into what they say was Keenan's illegal manufacturing of Phentermine HCl - an appetite suppressant and ingredient in the diet drug Fen-Phen.

Agents with the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration said in court papers that behind a padlocked door in a rented Clipper Mill Road suite in Hampden, Keenan ran an encapsulating machine that turned bulk Phentermine powder into his own homemade pills.

He distributed the capsules to physicians across the region, according to investigators, and also gave them to his patients at the Towson weight loss center. This year, WBAL-TV reported that patients were told to take large quantities of the drug.

The agents said he was violating drug codes; Keenan said he was doing research.

According to court papers, the investigation into his weight-loss drug production continued through January, when a tip led investigators to the Fells Point condo. After he was charged in state court, the Maryland Board of Physicians suspended Keenan's license.

Neither state nor federal prosecutors would explain the timing for the switch into federal court, saying they did not publicly discuss trial tactics.

At yesterday's hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge James K. Bredar ruled that Keenan could remain full time on home detention at his second home in Pikesville rather than be incarcerated.

He and his wife promised to keep alcohol and firearms out of the house.

After the hearing, the couple ignored questions from reporters as they walked to a waiting car.

The judge ordered Galvez detained pending trial.

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