The medical director of California-based Golden Sunrise Nutraceutical, Inc., agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that he took part in deceptively advertising a $23,000 treatment plan as a scientifically proven way to treat COVID-19. Dr. Stephen Meis will be barred from making similar unsupported health claims in the future and will pay $103,420 to provide refunds to defrauded consumers.
"We rely on doctors to follow the scientific evidence when making claims about health products and conditions,” said Daniel Kaufman, Acting Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Helping to spread false and unproven claims about treating COVID and other diseases is that much worse when done by those in positions of trust.”
According to the FTC’s July 2020 complaint, Golden Sunrise started marketing its Emergency D-Virus plan as a treatment for COVID-19 in March 2020. Advertising on billboards, websites, and social media, Golden Sunrise falsely claimed that the company’s supplements—ImunStem, Aktiffvate, and AnterFeerons—were “uniquely qualified to treat and modify the course of the Coronavirus epidemic in CHINA and other countries,” and that users could expect the “disappearance of viral symptoms within two to four days.”
The defendants also promoted and sold a range of dietary supplements as treatments for cancer and Parkinson’s disease, as well as many other serious health conditions and diseases. Some of the defendants’ treatments cost as much as $170,000 to $200,000. In reality, they were comprised mainly of various herbs and spices and the health claims were unsubstantiated, according to the FTC.
One ad for the company’s supplements cited “Stephen R. MEIS, M.D., Board Certified” saying, “With increased use of one of the supplements included in the Emergency D-Virus treatment plan, disappearance of viral symptoms is expected within two (2) to four (4) days,” and that the recommended dietary supplements “are available now and once they are started, they will help alleviate the people immediately [sic] with the acute illness of the Coronavirus.”
The proposed order settling the FTC’s complaint prohibits Dr. Meis from making health-related product misrepresentations in the future, requires him to have competent and reliable scientific evidence to support any claims he makes, and prohibits him from misrepresenting the results of any tests, studies, or other research. It also bars him from falsely stating that a product has FDA approval when it does not. Finally, the order imposes a judgment of $103,420 against Dr. Meis, payable to the FTC, which can be used to provide refunds to defrauded consumers.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the proposed stipulated final order was 4-0. The proposed order was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California and has now been signed by the judge. Litigation continues against Golden Sunrise Nutraceutical, Inc.; Golden Sunrise Pharmaceutical, Inc.; and Huu Tieu.
The FTC appreciates the assistance of the Better Business Bureau Serving Central California & Inland Empire Counties with the investigation of this case.
The Federal Trade Commission works to promote competition and protect and educate consumers. Learn more about consumer topics at consumer.ftc.gov, or report fraud, scams, and bad business practices at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Follow the FTC on social media, read consumer alerts and the business blog, and sign up to get the latest FTC news and alerts.