PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A federal jury in Philadelphia has found a Mays Landing, New Jersey doctor guilty of selling plant fertilizer as a weight loss drug, in an unusual case that took an even stranger twist.
The jury took just 45 minutes to return the verdict against Dr. William Merlino, 84, for supplying extreme dieters and bodybuilders with a capsule form of the chemical DNP.
It comes in a yellow powder used in fertilizer, explosives and herbicides. It causes dramatic weight loss if taken internally, but it’s banned because it’s also deadly.
The defense had argued that Dr. Merlino labeled his product “not for human consumption,” but prosecutor Joan Burns explained that was part of the scam.
“The defendant’s business was all about human consumption,” said Burns.
“He encapsulated his product, he advertised it, and he knew that people were buying his product for human use.”
His local post office clerk testified that Merlino brought in packages for shipping every day, and they called him “the yellow man” because he and the packages were always covered in yellow powder.
The jury also heard that after Merlino was arrested, he faked a case of pancreatic cancer to avoid standing trial. It worked, for a while.
But when prosecutors called the doctor on his diagnosis letter for an update, they learned the letter and medical records he had submitted were fake.
“That evidence was submitted in this case as consciousness of guilt,” said Burns.
“He fabricated a letter from a legitimate doctor. He fabricated medical records. He gave these documents to his prior defense lawyer and the government to have the trial postponed. The trial was, in fact, postponed, which is why we got a verdict a year later.”
Burns added that Merlino faces separate obstruction of justice charges, and remains in custody.