Holme Circle doc gets jail term for selling prescription drugs

A Holme Circle phys­i­cian was sen­tenced on Sept. 19 to al­most three years in fed­er­al pris­on for dis­trib­ut­ing mil­lions of pre­scrip­tion diet pills il­leg­ally from his former prac­tice.

Chris­toph­er Vas­sal­luzzo, 47, of New Hope, presen­ted his Sun­rise Well­ness of­fice, at 3000 Holme Ave., as a le­git­im­ate weight-loss cen­ter. But ac­cord­ing to the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice, he op­er­ated it like a black-mar­ket pill mill, deal­ing pre­scrip­tion drugs for cash without prop­er med­ic­al su­per­vi­sion of pa­tients.

The ac­cus­a­tions were de­tailed in a June 2010 grand jury in­dict­ment. In April, Vas­sal­luzzo pleaded guilty to con­spir­acy to dis­trib­ute con­trolled sub­stances, mail fraud, con­spir­acy to com­mit mail fraud, struc­tur­ing (a charge re­lated to the sys­tem­at­ic de­pos­it­ing of cash in­to bank ac­counts to avoid IRS re­port­ing), con­spir­acy to com­mit tax eva­sion and tax eva­sion. 

Vas­sal­luzzo’s il­leg­al drug sales gen­er­ated more than $5 mil­lion in cash, the U.S. at­tor­ney said. The prac­tice op­er­ated at least from 2004 to 2009.

At a Ju­ly 2010 court hear­ing, an at­tor­ney for Vas­sal­luzzo con­ceded that the doc­tor didn’t op­er­ate “as a con­ven­tion­al doc­tor’s of­fice,” WHYY.org re­por­ted at the time.

At­tor­ney Jef­frey Miller said that his cli­ent catered to “fat folks who wanted to get skinny,” and of­ten did not see pa­tients face-to-face, al­though the doc­tor provided prop­er su­per­vi­sion for their care.

Miller re­portedly said that of­fice em­ploy­ees would weigh cli­ents, take their blood pres­sure and provide them with coun­sel­ing about ex­er­cise and weight con­trol. Pills were ad­min­istered on the basis of the phys­i­cian’s re­com­mend­a­tion.

The at­tor­ney said that be­cause Vas­sal­luzzo re­ceived pay­ment in cash, it piqued the gov­ern­ment’s in­terest.

Al­though Vas­sal­luzzo owned and or­ches­trated the prac­tice, he was em­ployed full-time else­where as an emer­gency room phys­i­cian.

In ad­di­tion to a 34-month pris­on term, U.S. Dis­trict Court Judge An­ita Brody ordered Vas­sal­luzzo to for­feit more than $5 mil­lion, in­clud­ing pro­ceeds from the sale of a beach home in New Jer­sey, a time­share in Flor­ida and his Bucks County home, along with oth­er as­sets. The doc­tor has paid more than $1 mil­lion so far, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. at­tor­ney.

Vas­sal­luzzo was fur­ther ordered to pay more than $1 mil­lion to the IRS in back taxes and in­terest from 2004 to 2009. After his pris­on term, Vas­sal­luzzo will have to com­plete three years of su­per­vised re­lease. ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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