Last week, Lee and Diane Beloff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit in Philadelphia against a $45,000-a-month luxury drug detox facility where Diane had been a patient. But in case it’s been a while since you’ve heard the names Lee and Diane Beloff, allow me to refresh your memory. Because their history is among the more colorful of Philly lore.
Leland “Lee” Beloff, 70, was a South Philadelphia boxer-turned-State Representative-turned-City Councilman. In 1987, while serving on Council, he was taken down by federal prosecutors for extorting $1 million from Liberty Place developer Willard Rouse and for forcing a builder to provide his mistress with a $945-a-month apartment for free. His co-defendant was Philadelphia Mob boss Nicodemo Scarfo.
When Judge John Fullam sentenced Beloff to 10 years in prison, he declared, “[Beloff] committed the worst kind of breach of public trust. He sold his office and attempted to make City Council a branch of the local Mafia.” Beloff was represented at trial by the memorable Oscar Goodman, who would go on to become the mayor of Las Vegas. None other than Alan Dershowitz was called in for the appeal.
Meanwhile, Beloff’s wife Diane–16 years his junior–was having some legal woes of her own. In 1988, notorious Mob lawyer (and subsequent convict himself) Robert Simone represented her in a voter fraud case. She pleaded guilty to falsifying absentee ballots and received two years’ probation. Her husband wound up serving time on the same charges, concurrent with his extortion sentence. It turns out he had also been convicted in 1974 of Philadelphia election violations.
Lee Beloff was paroled in 1993 after nearly six years at Allenwood and served an additional two months under house arrest in Gladwyne. Naturally, this being Philadelphia, his old neighborhood elected him Democratic ward chairman shortly after he became a free man. “That’s what South Philadelphia is all about,” said one local Democratic ward leader at the time. “We stay loyal to our people.”
After that, Lee Beloff seemed to disappear from the public eye. Diane, an avid shopper, partnered with longtime dress-shop owner Toby Lerner, eventually opening her own eponymous boutiques in Rittenhouse and on the Main Line. Her stores have since closed.
All was quiet until 2011, when Lower Merion police arrested Lee Beloff, then 69, for simple assault, disorderly conduct and harassment, according to court records. Documents show that bail was set at $5,000 and that he requested a public defender. Charges were later withdrawn.
Then, in November 2012, the Inquirer broke news of a $1 million state grant that went to Springfield, Delaware County assisted-living facility Harlee Manor, which Lee Beloff owns and operates. According to a state audit, the grant–tied to State Representative Dwight Evans–should have gone to a nonprofit organization, and Harlee Manor is a decidedly for-profit company. A later Inquirer investigation raised plenty of questions about how that $1 million was spent.
Which brings us up to the new lawsuit.
Last week, the Beloffs sued Florida’s Seaside Palm Beach in Philadelphia’s United States District Court. Seaside Palm Beach is advertised as “the East Coast’s premier holistic luxury alcohol and drug rehab retreat.”
As Seaside’s website puts it, “You don’t have to sacrifice your standard of living on your path back to wellness and prosperity.” And residents of the detox facility don’t sacrifice much. They’re provided with a chef, a concierge, a chauffeur, “luxury bedding,” cell-phone access and optional “equine-assisted therapy.”
According to the lawsuit, Lee Beloff paid Seaside Palm Beach $45,000 in April 2012 for 30 days of treatment for his wife. After multiple surgeries for orthopedic and neurological problems, says the suit, Diane Beloff had been prescribed “numerous painkillers, including but not limited to Xanax, and eventually developed a benzodiazepine dependency.” She was also addicted to opiates.
Diane Beloff checked into Seaside that April. In early May, while still a patient there, she “suffered an altered mental status, a very high blood pressure and a feeling she was going to have seizures,” according to the suit. She was taken to a nearby hospital, where she refused her medications and had a seizure. Beloff wound up in the ICU and was treated with Haldol for “erratic behavior.” Later, she was transferred to her husband’s Harlee Manor. Her current condition is unknown.
The Beloffs are seeking unspecified damages, alleging that Seaside was “negligent and careless” and that doctors there weaned her off the benzodiazepine too quickly, leading to withdrawal. The couple’s list of resulting injuries is extensive and includes delirium, convulsions, seizures, memory loss, brain damage, “shrinkage in height,” heart damage and “exacerbated severe chronic pain throughout her entire body.” They also claim that one of the doctors at Seaside tried to cover up his alleged mistakes.
The Beloffs’ attorney and representatives of Seaside did not return calls seeking comment.
[PHOTO: Diane and Lee Beloff outside Federal Court in Philadelphia in 1987, AP Photo/Charles Krupa]