Losing his medical license didn’t stop a former Bayside doctor from selling diet pills with dangerous side effects to scores of unknowing patients, according to prosecutors.
Steven Bernhard, 66, was arrested at his home on 213th Street on Wednesday morning following a lengthy investigation led by the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York. Bernhard was charged with multiple counts of unauthorized practice of medicine, reckless endangerment and fraud and deceit related to controlled substances.
Bernhard, who received his license to practice medicine in 1977, had it revoked on Feb. 4, 2013, due to various charges including gross negligence and inappropriate prescribing of controlled substances. Even so, he allegedly continued to see dozens of patients each day out of an office he maintained at 39-21 Bell Blvd. in Bayside.
During a court-authorized search of Bernhard’s office in July 2015, detectives recovered 60,000 amphetamine pills and thousands of patient files. The hard copy of his revoked medical license was also recovered.
Since the raid, Bernhard’s practice dropped off the radar, leaving some patients on the physician review website Vitals wondering what happened to him.
“They shut him down over trumped up charges,” one individual lamented. “We lost a great, caring and qualified doctor.”
A message board dedicated to phentermine described Bernhard as a go-to doctor to get diet pills. One commenter wrote, “Dr. Steven Bernhard the best !! First time going to his office less than 15 mins got 2 month supply !!” (sic)
Investigators found that Bernhard allegedly kept a hard copy of his expired license, enabling him to purchase numerous controlled substances from a wholesale pharmaceutical distributor. These drugs included phentermine and phendimetrazine, which are amphetamines used for weight loss. The wholesaler was unaware that Bernhard’s license had been revoked.
Most of Bernhard’s patients were prescribed diet pills, including a 65-year-old woman with a history of heart problems. Prosecutors said this patient was charged $170 per visit and received numerous phendimetrazine pills. On March 10, 2015, Bernhard provided her with a larger supply than usual and charged her $250 for the visit.
The following month, prosecutors noted, the patient suffered a heart attack while visiting relatives in Florida and died. Pill bottles bearing Bernhard’s name were found in her luggage.
Based on a review of Bernhard’s records and the patient’s file, detectives concluded that he allegedly failed to order routine tests on the patient to ensure she could safely use phendimetrazine before prescribing her the medication.
The investigation also concluded that the unlicensed doctor illegally prescribed to family members painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet, both of which are controlled substances.
“His medical license was revoked, but he was still able to obtain millions of pills and prescribe dangerous narcotics, allegedly endangering the health and well-being of his patients,” Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan said. “Even social media sites discussed the ease of obtaining widely abused pills from Bernhard after he lost his license.”