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    Agents search chelation therapist's home, clinic

    By JACKIE RIPLEY

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published October 12, 2001


    TAMPA -- Federal agents served search warrants Thursday at an alternative health clinic in Carrollwood and a home in St. Petersburg.

    The clinic, run by Joseph DiStefano, a St. Petersburg nutrition counselor, focuses on chelation, an alternative health therapy that has been approved by the FDA for removal of lead from the bloodstream. Its use for other conditions has been controversial, but proponents also tout its curative properties for heart disease.

    Agents from Health and Human Services, U.S. Customs, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office arrived at the Medical Center for Preventative and Nutritional Medicine, 14372 N Dale Mabry Highway, about 10 a.m. They left three hours later with several large boxes containing an alternative cancer therapy.

    Agents also served warrants at DiStefano's St. Petersburg home, neighbors said.

    "At this point in our investigation, it's not appropriate to make any comments," said Steve Cole, a spokesman with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa.

    DiStefano could not be reached for comment.

    Dave Levi, who owns the clinic along with business partner Abby Saylor, said "absolutely nothing illegal was going on" and that he thinks the raid was prompted by the conventional health industry's distrust of alternative health therapies.

    "It seems the medical establishment does not like what's being done over there," Levi said. "It's a shame because they help a lot of people. Every day I see a good story."

    The Carrollwood center, which opened last year and is the largest on Florida's west coast, also offers therapeutic massage, chiropractic treatments, colonic therapy, bio-energetic medicine and nutrition counseling.

    - Times staff writers Josh Zimmer and Chris Tisch contributed to this report. Jackie Ripley can be reached at (813) 226-3468.

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