A U.S. District Court judge in Miami has ordered SlimAmerica, Inc., and its officers to temporarily halt their business practices, and frozen their assets, after hearing Federal Trade Commission evidence that the defendants made false and misleading advertising claims in the marketing and sale of their diet product called "Super-Formula." The FTC alleges that the defendants' ads falsely state that Super-Formula will "blast" up to 49 pounds off you in only 29 days, "obliterate" five inches from waistlines, and "zap" three inches from your thighs -- all without the need to diet or exercise. The ads assert that all of these claims have been validated by scientific studies. The Commission estimates that the defendants made between $5.3 million to $17.7 million from the sale of Super-Formula products. The FTC has also asked that the court's final order include a permanent halt to the alleged deceptive advertising and redress for consumers who purchased the defendants' diet products.
There are three products involved in the "Super-Formula" program: "Slim Again" -- a pill containing the ingredients chromium picolinate and hydroxycitrate (HCA); "Absorbit-ALL" -- a pill containing the ingredient chitin; and "Absorbit-ALL PLUS" -- a pill containing the ingredient knojac glucomannan. Named in the FTC's complaint are SlimAmerica, Inc., based in Deerfield Beach, Florida; Frank J. Sarcone; and Robert Wyman.
"Consumers should be exceptionally wary when ads for diet products contain dramatic claims such as 'blast,' 'explode,' 'obliterate,' or 'zap' the fat, and those that tout dramatic or 'breakthrough' weight loss without dieting or exercising," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.
The Commission has issued several brochures on dieting and fraudulent weight loss products and programs. The message in the free brochures is that to lose weight safely and keep it off permanently requires a lifelong commitment to daily eating habits and regular exercise.
According to the FTC's complaint detailing the charges in this case, to induce consumers to purchase their weight loss pills, the defendants placed full-page ads for their alleged diet product called "Super-Formula" in at least 35 different newspapers and magazines throughout the country, and on the Internet. Consumers were told to call an "800" number where they could order a 30, 60, or 90 day supply of Super-Formula products at prices ranging from $49.95 to $129.95.
The defendants' ads and product literature featured Super-Formula as a "New Triple Medical Breakthrough" consisting of three different "weight loss weapons." The ads, published in magazines such as Ladies Home Journal, stated that Super-Formula could effectuate dramatic weight loss and remove inches from a user's body size in a short period of time. The FTC alleges that these representations were false. The ads also stated that the representations made by the defendants are backed by scientific studies, when, in fact, the FTC alleges, the defendants' claims have not been scientifically validated in credible clinical studies. The ads further cited an endorsement from a doctor -- Howard Retzer, M.D., who allegedly had credentials with well-known nutrition and diet organizations. In fact, the FTC alleges, there was no individual named Howard Retzer who is or has been a member of the American Council of Nutrition, nor are there any bona fide professional organizations known as The American College of Endocrinology and Nutrition or The Research Institute of Metabolism and Nutrition.
The judge granted the FTC's request for a temporary restraining order against all defendants halting the deceptive scheme on January 29, 1997. The FTC has asked the court ultimately to order a permanent injunction against the defendants to prohibit them from engaging in similar deceptive practices in the future.
The FTC received invaluable assistance from the Office of the Florida Attorney General, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Broward County Sheriff's office. The Attorney General of Tennessee and the District Attorneys for Napa and Sonoma Counties in California also recently filed actions against these defendants making charges similar to those alleged in the FTC complaint.
The Commission vote to authorize staff to file the complaint was 5-0. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, in Fort Lauderdale on January 27 under seal. The seal was lifted January 31. A hearing on the FTC's request for a preliminary injunction continuing the conduct prohibitions and asset freeze is scheduled for February 10, 1997.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has "reason to believe" that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendants have actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.
Copies of the FTC complaint and the consumer brochures -- "Facts About Weight Loss Products & Programs"; "'Miracle' Health Claims: Add a Dose of Skepticism"; and "The Skinny on Dieting" are available from the FTC's Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest FTC news as it is announced, call the FTC's NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web Site at: http://www.ftc.gov
(FTC File No. 972 3019)
(Civil Action No. 97-6072)