Diet doctor convicted in Ecstasy case

Federal jury finds Robert Keenan guilty of conspiring to make drug

Defense is `very disappointed'

Sentencing set July 29

40-year term is possible

April 26, 2005|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

Wasting little time on deliberations, a federal court jury in Baltimore yesterday afternoon found that a well-known diet doctor illegally tried to cook up the club drug Ecstasy in his Fells Point home.

"We're very disappointed," his attorney Michael E. Kaminkow said after the verdict was read about 4:30 p.m.

Prosecutors said they were pleased by the jury's decision. But the guilty verdict rendered after about a half-hour of deliberations shocked Robert M. Keenan and his family.

Known to hundreds of patients as Dr. Bob, Keenan stood silent and expressionless when he learned his fate.

When he returns to court July 29 for sentencing, the 45-year- old weight-loss physician could receive up to 40 years in prison for conspiring to make Ecstasy and then attempting and failing to manufacture mass quantities of the drug.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Maryland section incorrectly identified the brother of Robert M. Keenan, the diet doctor found guilty of attempting to manufacture Ecstasy. His name is Todd Keenan.

His brother Tom had come to the trial every day, saying before the verdict that he had financially supported Keenan during his 15 months of house arrest.

But when the jury of three men and nine women read its decision yesterday and the judge said his brother would have to report to jail today, Tom Keenan wept quietly.

"Give the man his freedom," he said, walking onto an elevator at the federal courthouse. "They have been hounding him for five years."

The guilty verdict came at the end of a four-day trial, but the investigation into Robert Keenan's activities at diet clinics in Towson and Columbia lasted much longer.

As far back as 2001, agents with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration raided his offices, investigating whether he was improperly manufacturing diet drugs that turned bulk phentermine powder into homemade appetite-suppressant pills.

But criminal charges against Keenan did not come until one of his co-conspirators turned on him, prosecutors said.

Confidential informant

Jeffrey Saffell, a convicted cocaine dealer turned confidential informant, told police in January 2004 that he helped assemble an Ecstasy ring that included Keenan.

The next day, Baltimore police and federal agents raided homes in the 900 block of Fell St. and the 1100 block of Baylis St. Authorities found Keenan in the Fell Street home, which he owned.

In the oven, they found a green liquid precursor to Ecstasy "oozing from one end" of a sealed pipe in his heated oven.

Lab manuel found

Police said they found a lab manual in the bathroom of Keenan's Fell Street home. At a separate residence in Baltimore and at his office at Elite Weight Management Center in Towson, they found virtual cookbooks for manufacturing Ecstasy.

Many of the documents seized during the raids contained Keenan's fingerprints, evidence showed.

At trial, lawyers painted vastly different pictures of Keenan, who had built a sizable practice treating the overweight in and around Baltimore.

To prosecutors, Keenan was no better than an illegal drug dealer, giving his co-defendants the necessary chemicals and his pricey waterfront condo in which to make Ecstasy

"The government has kept its promise to you," said Assistant U.S. Attorney George L. Russell III. "The only thing you need to do is use your common sense."

To his defense attorney, the well-educated Keenan was a man who had only a longstanding interest in academic research on illegal drugs. His misfortune came when he associated with the wrong people, Kaminkow said.

`Classic snitch'

"Saffell is the classic professional snitch," Kaminkow said of the convicted cocaine dealer. He called another defendant and self-described chemist in the ring, Gerard Galvez, a "snake."

It was they, not Keenan, who orchestrated the illegal drug operation, according to Kaminkow.

"Does anyone not believe that if Robert Keenan had wanted to make Ecstasy he could have?" Kaminkow asked, noting in his closing remarks to jurors that no physical evidence of Ecstasy had ever been recovered.

But prosecutors said the ambitious drug ring planned its success and put it all down on paper.

Yesterday, prosecutors again showed jurors a handwritten balance sheet believed to belong to the drug ring when it was seized in January 2004.

It appeared to show projections of 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, apparently for members of the drug ring.

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

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