Two Doctors Charged For Peddling Diet Drugs Through Online Pharmacy

Two doctors helped peddle millions of dollars' worth of diet drugs through an online pharmacy, approving thousands of prescriptions without seeing anyone in person, according to charges filed Wednesday.

By signing off on the orders, Doctors Ranvir Ahlawat and Steven Klinman helped take in $33.6 million in nine months, according to the indictment.

Most of the orders were for highly addictive, controlled drugs, they said.

"This is high-tech drug dealing," said U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan.

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Ahlawat, 42, of Toms River, N.J., and Klinman, 57, of Elkins Park, Pa., reviewed the questionnaires customers sent in with their orders, prosecutors said. Ahlawat reviewed 1,000 to 1,500 a day at times.

Their lawyers did not immediately return calls Wednesday. A message left after-hours with also went unreturned.

Prosecutors said more people could be charged in the case. They said five doctors approved more than 350,000 prescriptions from September 2003 to May 2004, most for weight-loss drugs such as Phentermine and Adipex and sleep aids such as Ambien.

The indictment also charges pharmacy operator Michael Bezonsky; pharmacist Alexander Atchildiev, who is accused of shipping the drugs without ensuring the prescriptions were valid; and Thomas Beaulieu, who helped Bezonsky run the business.

"Fundamentally, the government's theory is that every prescription requires a face-to-face meeting with the equivalent of Dr. Welby, and that is out of step with the Internet world," said Bezonsky's lawyer, John M. Vandevelde.

A lawyer for Atchildiev did not immediately return a call. Beaulieu's lawyer, Benjamin Gluck, said his client was charged under a statute in which criminal intent is not required.