Federal drug trial begins for weight-loss physician

Keenan charged with attempting to manufacture Ecstasy in condo

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News from around the Baltimore region

April 19, 2005|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

According to his defense attorney, Dr. Robert M. Keenan, the diet doctor charged with running a large-scale drug lab, is simply misunderstood.

A so-called Ecstasy cookbook found inside the doctor's Fells Point condo was not evidence of drug dealing, Michael E. Kaminkow told jurors at the start of Keenan's trial yesterday.

The defense attorney told jurors that Keenan, 45, has published scores of research papers on illegal drugs and once worked for the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

"This case has `reasonable doubt' written all over it," he told a jury in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The prosecutor, however, drew a picture in his opening statement of a physician who made his name promoting pills as the key to weight loss but secretly operated an illegal drug lab out of his Baltimore home.

Authorities said they raided Keenan's half-million-dollar Fells Point home to find a green liquid precursor to Ecstasy "oozing from one end" of a sealed pipe in his heated oven.

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. Assistant U.S. Attorney George L. Russell III said that Keenan's fingerprints also were found on papers detailing how to make Ecstasy.

In testimony yesterday, John Jendrek, the Baltimore City narcotics detective assigned to the case, described a balance sheet believed to belong to Keenan. It appeared to show more than $1.3 million in drug sales in six months, funding the purchase of a Porsche, a Caribbean vacation and a Baltimore County house.

The last entry in April 2004 listed $500,000 in drug sales and no expenditures. The only comment listed was "move south."

It was unclear from court testimony whether the ledger's entries were only for drug sales involving Ecstasy. Keenan, who was licensed to distribute drugs such as phentermine for weight loss, is charged with conspiring to make Ecstasy and attempting to produce it. But prosecutors have not provided evidence to support how much he is alleged to have produced.

No Ecstasy was seized at his homes, according to court papers.

The criminal proceedings against Keenan are expected to last up to 1 1/2 weeks.

Prosecutors said that 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.

After Baltimore police and federal agents forced their way into the home in the 900 block of Fell St., "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.

The informant, Jeffrey Saffell, could present credibility issues for prosecutors when he testifies as expected.

He told police about Keenan's alleged drug operation days after Saffell was arrested and charged with dealing cocaine while on supervised release for an earlier drug conviction.

In his statement, Kaminkow described Saffell as a man who "thought he had a license" to break the law. He said Saffell and Keenan had never met.

Characterizing the evidence against his client, Kaminkow told the jury: "Things aren't always what they seem."

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