The Federal Trade Commission has charged marketers of two dietary supplements with falsely claiming that their products can prevent and cure cancer and other diseases. According to the FTC’s complaint, Boston-area marketers Direct Marketing Concepts, Inc. (DMC), ITV Direct, Inc. (ITV), and Donald Barrett (Barrett), along with their business partners, California corporations Healthy Solutions, LLC and Health Solutions, Inc., and their principals Alejandro Guerrero (a.k.a. Alex Guerrero), Michael Howell, and Greg Geremesz; and Wayne, Pennsylvania-based Triad ML Marketing, Inc., King Media, Inc., and Allen Stern, have sold “Supreme Greens with MSM” and “Coral Calcium Daily” to consumers through two widely-aired infomercials. The FTC alleges that the Supreme Greens infomercial promoted the supplement as a means to treat, cure, and prevent cancer and other diseases, and to cause significant weight loss, as well as being a safe for consumption by all, including pregnant women and persons on medication. The FTC further alleges that the Coral Calcium Daily infomercial touted the supplement as a means to treat and cure cancer and other diseases and as a superior form of calcium based on its purported bioavailability.
The FTC’s complaint further alleges that DMC, ITV, and Barrett failed to disclose that the infomercial promoting Supreme Greens is a paid commercial advertisement and not an independent television program, and that these defendants charged consumers’ credit cards for automatic product shipments without authorization.
The FTC is seeking a temporary restraining order against the marketers of Supreme Greens, and is seeking permanent injunctive relief, including redress to consumers who purchased the products, against the marketers of both products.
According to the FTC, defendants DMC, ITV, Barrett, Healthy Solutions LLC, Health Solutions, Inc., Guerrero, Howell, and Geremesz (the Supreme Greens defendants) began marketing Supreme Greens in August 2003 through a nationally disseminated infomercial featuring Barrett and Guerrero. The infomercial promoted Supreme Greens as an effective treatment to cure or prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. The FTC also alleges that the defendants claimed Supreme Greens will cause significant weight loss of up to four pounds a week and up to 80 pounds in eight months, and that the product is safe for everyone, including pregnant women, children, and persons on medication.
The FTC’s complaint alleges that the Supreme Greens defendants violated the FTC Act by making deceptive efficacy and safety claims for the product. In addition, the complaint alleges that defendants DMC, ITV, and Barrett deceptively represented that the infomercial viewers were watching was an independent TV program, when it was in fact paid commercial advertising. Further, according to the FTC, defendants DMC, ITV, and Barrett charged automatic shipments of the product to consumers’ credit or debit cards without their authorization.
The FTC has asked the court to enter a temporary restraining order against the Supreme Greens defendants to prohibit them from making the challenged claims. The Commission also has asked the court to freeze the assets of DMC, ITV, and Barrett, and to appoint a temporary receiver over DMC and ITV.
Coral Calcium Daily
The FTC’s complaint also alleges that defendants DMC and Barrett, together with Triad ML Marketing, Inc., King Media, Inc., and Allen Stern, marketed Coral Calcium Daily to consumers throughout the United States beginning in 2002. Coral Calcium Daily is a dietary supplement that purportedly contains a form of calcium derived from marine coral. According to the FTC, the defendants promoted the product through a nationally televised infomercial featuring Kevin Trudeau and Robert Barefoot, whom the FTC sued in June 2003 in connection with an infomercial promoting another coral calcium product. The Coral Calcium Daily infomercial aired on national cable networks such as PAX Television, Women’s Entertainment, and the Food Network. The defendants also advertised in free-standing newspaper inserts, and sold the product through retail outlets such as CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreen’s. According to the FTC, the defendants promoted Coral Calcium Daily as an effective means to prevent, treat, and cure cancer, heart disease, and various degenerative and autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis, lupus, and Parkinson’s disease. In addition, the FTC alleges that the defendants had no basis for their claims that Coral Calcium Daily was superior to other calcium supplements in terms of the amount of calcium absorbed by the body and the speed of that absorption, and that the defendants had no basis for claiming that scientific research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine proves that calcium supplements are able to prevent, reverse, or cure cancer in humans.
The FTC alleges that the defendants’ health benefit and superior bioavailability claims for Coral Calcium Daily are false and/or unsubstantiated.
In a related action, on April 19, 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a warning letter to Barrett, president of ITV and DMC, stating that labeling for the firm’s dietary supplement product Supreme Greens with MSM, including a brochure and customer letter included when the product was ordered caused the product to be out of compliance with the provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The brochure and letter contained unsubstantiated claims about the product’s benefits such as “[n]atural weight loss,” “balance the body’s pH,” and “neutralize acidity...heartburn, acid-reflux.” In addition, disease claims were made on the firm’s website. For example, the product claimed to “helped (sic) thousands of people with cancer, diabetes, arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome....” The claims cause the product to be an unapproved new drug. Subsequently, a response from the firm’s attorneys stated that they intend to remove all the violative claims. FDA will continue to monitor the marketplace to ensure that this product remains lawfully marketed. For additional information, please visit: [http://www.fda.gov/foi/warning_letters/g4690d.pdf]
The Commission vote to authorize staff to file the complaint was 5-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, in Boston, on June 1, 2004.
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 defendant has actually violated the law. The case will be decided by the court.
Copies of the complaint are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
(FTC File No. 023 3138)
(Civil Action No. 04-CV-11136-GAO)
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