U.S. drug case against Towson doctor to start

Weight loss physician faces Ecstasy charges

Investigation began in 2001

Officials say he had drug lab in city home

April 18, 2005|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

An ordinary diet doctor or an illegal drug dealer?

That question should take center stage in federal court today when a once-prominent Towson physician is scheduled to go on trial on charges that he illegally manufactured the club drug Ecstasy.

Prosecutors are expected to expose the alleged double life of Robert M. Keenan, 45, affectionately known to his patients as "Dr. Bob," a physician who made his name promoting pills as the key to weight loss and now stands accused of peddling illegal substances.

Authorities said they found what amounted to a full-scale drug lab inside his half-million-dollar condo in Fells Point, including Valium stowed in a closet, a green liquid precursor to Ecstasy "oozing from one end" of a sealed pipe in his heated oven, and pounds of white powder piled on his dining room table - tested as phentermine hydrochloride, an appetite suppressant and ingredient in the diet drug fen-phen, according to court documents.

Police said they found a lab manual in his bathroom, a virtual cookbook for manufacturing illegal drugs at another nearby residence and another chemistry article inside his office at Elite Weight Management Center in Towson.

But Keenan's lawyers argue in court papers that the doctor was a licensed practitioner allowed to dispense phentermine.

Prosecutors confirmed they later dropped phentermine-related charges when they amended their indictment.

Keenan's attorneys also are likely to challenge the case by noting what federal agents did not find in searches at his two homes: Ecstasy.

He is charged with conspiring to make the illegal drug, but prosecutors can only estimate how much he allegedly produced, according to an attorney familiar with the case.

A grand jury indicted Keenan in October on charges of conspiring to cook up more than 10 kilograms of Ecstasy, illegally manufacturing and possessing with intent to manufacture phentermine hydrochloride and repackaging the drug at an unregistered facility.

Federal intervention

The federal indictment came after a sudden shift out of state court when U.S. authorities marched into the local proceedings in downtown Baltimore minutes before Keenan's trial was to start and arrested him.

Authorities got a break when the doctor's alleged accomplice pleaded guilty to drug charges last week, but it is unclear whether he would be called to testify against Keenan.

The criminal proceedings against Keenan are expected to last up to 1 1/2 weeks in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

His attorney did not return a call for comment Friday.

The U.S. attorney's office also declined to comment.

The investigation by agents with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration began in 2001 and took them to his Fell Street condominium, his weight loss office in Towson and a padlocked suite in Hampden, where officials allege Keenan had an encapsulating machine that turned bulk phentermine powder into homemade pills.

Investigators said Keenan distributed the capsules to physicians across the region and also gave them to his patients.

Keenan's arrest stemmed from a tip from a man described in court documents as a cocaine dealer turned confidential informant who told police he helped assemble the Ecstasy ring.

Investigators arranged for the informant to make contact with people inside a Fell Street house where Keenan is alleged to have operated the Ecstasy lab, court papers show.

The next day, Baltimore police and federal agents raided the homes in the 900 block of Fell St. and the 1100 block of Baylis St.

Authorities found Keenan inside the Fell Street home.

After he was read his legal rights, "Keenan admitted that the phentermine was his and that he was making pills but that he knew nothing about the metal pipe in the stove," prosecutors wrote in the court documents.

Bankruptcy

After he was charged, Keenan had his medical license suspended. Soon his funds ran out.

"Dr. Keenan is in bankruptcy, has no ability to earn a living. ... His wife no longer wants him to reside at home," his attorney Michael E. Kaminkow wrote to the judge Feb. 1.

When an official from the court's pretrial release services visited Keenan at home, he "found Keenan with multiple scratches on his body caused by his wife," Kaminkow wrote.

Still on home detention, Keenan moved out of that home on Crystal Field Court in Baltimore County to the Fell Street address, where he currently resides, prosecutors said last week.

TV appearance

Before his arrest, Keenan's reputation had grown large enough to warrant a television appearance in 1997, according to the station's Web site.

When asked on WBAL whether "popping the right pill will take the weight off," Keenan, as reported on the station's Internet site, replied:

"I can take the weight off people without too much trouble. We want to get the weight off of people. Hopefully we've taught them to eat a little better, and then we do use medication intermittently."

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