On November 17, 2015, the federal government announced a series of criminal and civil cases targeting illegal dietary supplement marketing resulting from investigations by the Department of Justice (DOJ), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Department of Defense, Postal Inspection Service, and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

1. Sellers of Jack3d and OxyElite Pro Indicted

DOJ announced the indictment of USPlabs and four of its executives, among others, for selling products including Jack3d and OxyElite Pro. Many of the allegations against USPlabs stem from its claims that the products were made from natural plant extracts when, in fact, they were synthetic chemicals, including some that were toxic to the liver. The case is pending in federal court in Dallas. 

The indictment alleges that USPlabs engaged in a conspiracy to import ingredients from China using false certificates of analysis and false labeling and then lied about the source and nature of those ingredients after it put them in its products. USPlabs told some of its retailers and wholesalers that it used natural plant extracts in products when in fact it was using a synthetic stimulant manufactured in a Chinese chemical factory. USPlabs also allegedly sold products without determining whether they would be safe to use. The indictment claims the defendants were aware of studies that linked the products to liver toxicity.

The indictment alleges that USPlabs engaged in a conspiracy to import ingredients from China using false certificates of analysis and false labeling and then lied about the source and nature of those ingredients after it put them in its products. USPlabs told some of its retailers and wholesalers that it used natural plant extracts in products when in fact it was using a synthetic stimulant manufactured in a Chinese chemical factory. USPlabs also allegedly sold products without determining whether they would be safe to use. The indictment claims the defendants were aware of studies that linked the products to liver toxicity.

The indictment also alleges that in October 2013, USPlabs and its principals told the FDA that it would stop distributing OxyElite Pro after the product had been implicated in an outbreak of liver injuries. Despite this promise, USPlabs allegedly engaged in an "allhands-on-deck" effort to sell as much OxyElite Pro as it could as quickly as possible. Also, USPlabs and three individuals were charged with obstruction of an FDA proceeding and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

2. DOJ Civil Cases

DOJ also filed five civil cases seeking injunctive relief against businesses and individuals that allegedly sold supplements as disease cures or were otherwise in violation of the law. Three cases, investigated by FDA and the Postal Inspection Service, allege that the defendants unlawfully sold products as treatments for various diseases including Alzheimer's disease, cancer, and arthritis. The complaints allege that the defendants' conduct defrauded consumers through the sale of unapproved new and misbranded drugs.

In the fourth case, DOJ alleges that the defendants distribute dietary supplements in a manner that does not conform to current good manufacturing practice (cGMP) and that they are making claims about the uses for many of the products that render them unapproved and misbranded drugs. Furthermore, FDA testing revealed that some of defendants' products contain active pharmaceutical ingredients that are not listed on the products' labels, including one ingredient that was withdrawn from the market in 2010 because of safety concerns. The defendants have agreed to be bound by a consent decree of permanent injunction banning them from selling dietary supplements until they come into compliance with the law. 

Lastly, DOJ filed suit alleging that dietary supplements sold by the defendants are adulterated because they are not manufactured in accordance with the FDA's cGMP regulations. One of the dietary supplements contains the ingredient 1, 3-dimethylamylamine (DMAA), but does not declare DMAA as an ingredient. In addition, the defendants are alleged to have improperly marketed the product as a disease cure.

3. FTC Actions

The government's sweep also included a lawsuit by the FTC to stop a dietary supplement marketer from making misleading claims that its product can help treat and even cure people who are addicted to opiates, including prescription pain medications and heroin. The FTC's complaint alleged that the defendant deceptively claims that its dietary supplement, a "proprietary blend" of herbs and other compounds, alleviates opiate withdrawal symptoms and increases a user's likelihood of overcoming opiate addiction. The FTC alleges that ads for the product are deceptive because they are false or unsubstantiated. The FTC is seeking a court order providing redress and preventing the company from making such claims unless they can be supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.

The FTC announced two partial settlements against marketers accused of making unsupported claims for weight-loss supplements. In one case, the FTC claimed defendants made false and misleading health and efficacy claims in direct mail ads and on a website for diet pills and cited fake scientific experts studies. Three defendants agreed to settle the charges. The court order requires two defendants to admit liability in the case, bans them from selling weight-loss programs, products, and services, and imposes a $2.7 million judgment. Another individual agreed not to engage in prohibited deceptive conduct alleged in the complaint and to pay $1.6 million. Litigation against the remaining defendants continues.

The other settled case involves the FTC's May 2014 complaint against NPB Advertising, Inc. and others for allegedly using false weight-loss claims and fake news websites to market a dietary supplement called Pure Green Coffee, which had been featured on the Dr. Oz Show. The court order bars the defendants from the deceptive acts and practices described in the complaint and imposes a $30 million judgment that will be suspended upon the sale of certain assets, payment of $160,800, and the collection and turnover of an additional $155,760. Litigation against the remaining defendants continues.

Finally, the FTC announced it sent warning letters to 20 unnamed companies that advertise and sell dietary supplements online for weight loss, warning them that FTC staff has reviewed their weight-loss claims and that they could be misleading.