A Hennepin County judge has dismissed a lawsuit by a Bloomington man who alleged widespread industrial pollution stretching back for decades in the southwest metro area.
Bob Keenan, once a wealthy and influential weight-loss doctor, has fought a one-man battle for months against an array of high-powered Twin Cities law firms. He sounded undaunted Monday after learning of the decision.
“It’s simple. I’ll refile with strict liability and they’re not off the hook,” said Keenan. “We’re going to refile and keep appealing. We’re going to go back after them.”
Keenan saw his career crash when he was convicted of involvement in an illegal Ecstasy lab. Returning to his childhood home in Bloomington after five years in federal prison, he has since devoted his time to pursuing legal redress for pollution that he claims took the lives of his parents and ruined his health as well as that of his brother.
Representing himself and his brother in court, the combative 57-year-old cranked out hundreds of pages of legal briefs, borrowing from friends to gas up his battered Chevy minivan and deliver his self-penned court filings.
Now his lonely legal battle is at a standstill after District Judge Ronald Abrams tossed out his suit against Toro Co., Consolidated Precision Products, Thermo King and several other area businesses and government agencies.
Keenan was a star medical researcher at the University of Minnesota, earning an M.D. and a Ph.D. in clinical pharmacology. He developed anti-smoking and weight-loss drugs, authored articles in the nation’s leading scientific journals and amassed a host of drug patents.
After a stint as a government lab researcher in Washington, D.C., he opened a weight-loss clinic in the Baltimore area, dispensing his own brand of diet pills. It was a huge success.
Keenan was earning millions of dollars a year, according to court documents. He lived lavishly and married an Iranian woman who worked as a stripper. Keenan made influential friends and was a candidate for a top job in the George W. Bush administration, possibly as head of the Food and Drug Administration.
Keenan was “brilliant, a really smart guy and a delightful conversationalist,” said Denver lawyer James Prochnow, a former White House staff attorney who helped with the vetting. “It’s kind of like these pro athletes. You get a lot of money at a young age, you make some bad decisions.”
Keenan’s bad decisions began when federal investigators looked into his use of phentermine, an amphetamine used in his prescription weight-loss drugs.
Acting on a tip from a convicted cocaine dealer, drug agents raided Keenan’s homes and office. They found a chemical precursor to the drug Ecstasy baking in an oven, and “cookbooks” on how to make it.
Investigators testified that the chemicals found in Keenan’s home could have been turned into as much as $5 million worth of Ecstasy. He was convicted in 2005 of conspiracy to manufacture Ecstasy, and sentenced to seven years at the federal prison in Sandstone, Minn. He was released after five years and returned to Bloomington to care for his ailing mother, who died in 2013.
Keenan maintains he was wrongly convicted. He said the specific chemical isomer found in the raid wasn’t on the federal schedule of illegal drugs, and is seeking to have the conviction overturned.
A polluted play area
At their Bloomington home, across the street from Toro, Keenan’s brother Doug, 63, recalled the chemicals spewing from the Toro factory when they were kids.
“There were pipes coming right out of the building, dumping chemicals into a disposal lagoon,” Doug Keenan said. “We used to play in that crap. It never froze in the wintertime.” For years, the family drank from a well, Bob Keenan said, that was just yards from the disposal lagoon.
But those allegations won’t come to trial now. In his decision, the judge held that the Minnesota Environmental Response and Liability Act (MERLA) bars Keenan from suing for any pollution that occurred before July 1, 1983, when the law took effect.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently proposed investigating a large area in Bloomington as a potential Superfund cleanup site. But the boundary of the Superfund area stops one block short of Keenan’s house.
‘We’re going to fight’
“There’s no doubt there’s a problem and somebody needs to pay for it,” Bob Keenan said. “The bottom line is that everyone was so greedy in taking their own little piece of the proverbial pie that no one gave two [hoots] about the people who live here.”
Who pays, if anyone, will depend on whether Keenan can convince a skeptical judge of the merits of his case. There’s no doubt that he will keep at it.
“We’re not going to go away quietly,” Keenan said. “We’re going to be a problem for as long as it takes. Now we’ve got something to live for. We’re pissed off, and we’re going to fight.”