Former Physician Pleads Guilty to Selling Amphetamine Diet Pills to Patients Long After Losing Medical License

Death of patient under former doctor’s care leads to Reckless Endangerment conviction

Bridget G. Brennan, New York City’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor, announced today the conviction of STEVEN BERNHARD, a former practitioner of osteopathic medicine who sold amphetamine diet pills to patients long after his medical license was revoked for dangerous prescribing practices. Today, BERNHARD appeared before Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Michael R. Sonberg and entered a guilty plea to charges of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Fifth Degree, the Unauthorized Practice of Medicine and Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree. Under the terms of the guilty plea, BERNHARD is expected to receive a one-year jail term upon being sentenced on March 14, 2017.

A long-term investigation by the Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Prescription Drug Investigation Unit, the New York State Health Department’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement (BNE) and the DEA’s New York Drug Enforcement Strike Force, Group Z-23 revealed that BERNHARD, 66, continued to sell amphetamine pills to patients at his office at 39-21 Bell Blvd. in Bayside, Queens for more than two years after his medical license was revoked by the New York State Board for Professional Medical Conduct on February 4, 2013.

Charges to which BERNHARD pled guilty today relate in part to his treatment of a long-time patient with a history of heart-related health problems. The patient, a 65-year-old woman, regularly received phendimetrazine diet pills from BERNHARD in exchange for cash. During a March 10, 2015 visit to BERNHARD’s office, the patient received a larger supply of pills than usual. Within weeks she suffered a heart attack while visiting family members in Florida.

Pill bottles bearing the doctor’s name were found in the patient’s luggage. She was hospitalized and died on April 18, 2015. Stimulant-like diet pills are contraindicated for patients with a history of heart disease.

BERNHARD was arrested on August 17, 2016. During a court authorized search of his office the previous summer, investigators seized approximately 60,000 amphetamine pills and thousands of patient files. Investigators also seized a copy of the OPMC Determination and Order that revoked the doctor’s medical license.

At the time of the license revocation by the State Board for Professional Medical Conduct in 2013, a hearing committee found the physician guilty of the following disciplinary charges: negligence on more than one occasion; incompetence on more than one occasion; gross negligence; gross incompetence, inappropriate prescribing of controlled substances; fraudulent practice; filing a false report and failing to maintain accurate patient records.

In direct violation of the OPMC order, BERNHARD retained a hard copy of his medical license and used it to order controlled substances from a wholesale pharmaceutical distributor, including two types of amphetamine diet pills. BERNHARD obtained approximately 1.5 million amphetamine pills by these means between January 2013 and March 2015.

Additionally, the former doctor allegedly wrote more than 20 illegal prescriptions to family members for narcotics, including the opioid painkillers hydrocodone (commonly known by the brand name Vicodin), hydromorphone (commonly known by the brand name Dilaudid) and Percocet, after he had lost his medical license.

Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan thanked her office’s Prescription Drug Investigation Unit, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, the New York State Health Department’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement and the DEA’s New York Drug Enforcement Strike Force.

The New York Drug Enforcement Strike Force, Group Z-23, is comprised of agents and detectives with the DEA, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents, with assistance from partners in the DEA New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force, which includes agents and officers of the DEA, the NYPD, Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the New York State Police, the U. S. Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Marshal Service, New York National Guard, the New York Department of Taxation and Finance, the Rockland County Sheriff’s Office, the Clarkstown Police Department, Port Washington Police Department and the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

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Kati Cornell
Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office
(212) 815-0525