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. ••