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Doctor Sentenced for Illegal Distribution of Weight-Loss Drugs

May 2, 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Antonetta Stancu, 215.348.6340, astancu@buckscounty.org

Arnold Berkowitz

A Philadelphia physician who directed the illegal distribution of controlled substances from a weight-loss clinic he owned will serve time in the Bucks County Correctional Facility for his crimes.

Arnold Berkowitz, 62, was sentenced Monday by Bucks County Common Pleas Court Judge Wallace H. Bateman Jr. to serve six to 23 months, plus a concurrent three years of probation.

Berkowitz had pleaded guilty in February to felony charges of possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, delivery of a controlled substance by a practitioner, and conspiracy; as well as misdemeanor charges of fraud and identity theft. He has surrendered his medical license.

Berkowitz admitted that during late 2015 and early 2016, he directed an office employee who had no medical license or expertise to see patients, sign them up for his weight-loss practice, write prescription slips, and dispense controlled substances – mostly Phentermine, an amphetamine-like drug that acts as an appetite suppressant.

Deputy District Attorney Antonetta Stancu told Bateman that Berkowitz would leave town for extended periods of time, and then fraudulently backdate medical and office documents upon his return. Among other things, the documents misrepresented that Berkowitz had actually examined the patients to whom his assistant had provided Phentermine.

“He dealt drugs. He dealt speed,” Stancu said. “What he did was he took advantage of people he never met … for one purpose and one purpose alone: greed.”

She added that the Northeast Philadelphia diet clinic was apparently lucrative, since investigators found $250,000 in cash at his home.

A Bucks County detective, working undercover, was among those who visited the clinic, filled out patient application forms, and received Pentermine without having seen Berkowitz.

Berkowitz also admitted that he wrote fraudulent prescriptions in the names of unwitting patients to obtain Fioricet, a prescription pain medication, and then dispensed the drugs to patients at his clinic.

Although Berkowitz lived and practiced in Philadelphia, his patients came from Bucks, Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office authorized Bucks County authorities to prosecute what began as a multi-jurisdictional investigation.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Miller argued that Berkowitz’s longtime specialty was in cancer treatment, and that he was a well-respected expert in radiation oncology. Berkowitz’s skills were so valued that he traveled out of state frequently in his work, Miller said.

The weight-loss business, Miller said, began as a psychological diversion for Berkowitz, who wanted something more uplifting to do when the constant death surrounding his cancer-treatment work wore him down.

“He had dealt with so much death and dismay that he wanted to start a diet center to do something more uplifting,” Miller said. “It was a way to ameliorate the tension and stress and draconian circumstances” of dealing constantly with patients who were dying.

But as Berkowitz’s reputation as a cancer expert grew, Miller said, he found it hard to be involved on-site with his diet center, and became dangerously disconnected.

“He became too hands-off, and he delegated too much authority” to his assistant, said Miller, who asked Bateman to impose a sentence of probation.

“I’m completely at the court’s mercy,” Berkowitz told Bateman. “I broke the law and there’s no excuse for it.”

Stancu said she found contradictions in Berkowitz’s behavior and his stated motivation for starting the diet center.

“He wanted to have patients who didn’t have a fatal outcome,” she said, yet he endangered their lives by recklessly allowing an untrained person to prescribe and distribute controlled substances to them. Stancu credited the work of Bucks County detectives and investigators from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration for shutting down the practice before anyone died. 

Bateman said that while he respected and appreciated Berkowitz’s cancer work, he could not impose probation.

“You’ve taken a gift and you’ve exploited it,” the judge said. “You got too lax … If I just simply put you on probation, it sends the wrong message.”

Bateman did allow Berkowitz three weeks to begin his prison time so that he could be screened for intermediate punishment such as work release. He also forbade Berkowitz from applying to have his medical license reinstated until after he completes his three-year probation.

Approved for release by Daniel B. Sweeney, Chief of Prosecution.

Office of the District Attorney
Bucks County Justice Center
100 N. Main Street
Doylestown, PA 18901 
Phone: 215-348-6344 
Fax: 215-348-6299

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