Consumer Health Digest #04-09

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 1, 2004

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.

Mail scamster Clinton pardoned pleads guilty to tax evasion. Almon Glenn Braswell, who has made a fortune marketing mail-order "anti-aging" products with misleading claims, has pled guilty to conspiring to evade corporate and personal income taxes. Sentencing is scheduled for September, but the prosecutors have strongly recommended that he receive an 18-month prison term if he pays $10.4 million in back taxes, penalties, and interest within the next three weeks. [Former owner of California dietary supplement company pleads guilty in federal tax fraud conspiracy. USDOJ news release, March 2, 2004] During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Braswell was subjected to more than 140 civil regulatory actions related to false claims for products claimed to cure baldness, enlarge the female breast, delay the aging process, cause weight loss, remove "cellulite," and improve the growth and appearance of fingernails. He was also convicted of mail fraud, perjury, and tax evasion for which he served several months in prison but was pardoned by President Bill Clinton on his last day of office (January 20, 2001). Most of Braswell's recent marketing has been done under the name Gero Vita International, which appears to have had total sales exceeding $1 billion since 1995. By pleading guilty, Braswell admitted participating in a scheme to overstate Gero Vita's business expenses by using bogus invoices from DeLeon Global Trading, Ltd., a Bermuda shell company that he owned. Attorney William E. Frantz, of Marietta, Georgia is scheduled for trial next month for allegedly funneling money through his law firm to offshore accounts that Braswell controlled. Braswell and Gero Vita are still facing false advertising charges by the Federal Trade Commission. See Quackwatch for additional information about Braswell and his activities.

"Research" project exposed as marketing ploy. Quackwatch has posted an article challenging the Juice Plus+® Children's Health Study, a large-scale, multi-year survey claimed to help determine what effect adding Juice Plus+® fruit & vegetable supplements to the family diet can have on the health and well-being of children ages 6-15. Each child participant is paired with an adult. The children are provided free products by the Juice Plus+ Children's Research Foundation, but the adults must purchase them and report their observations. The Foundation's Web site has tabulated the answers to 17 questions for which the only responses are "more," "no change," or "less." Quackwatch's critique notes that data are meaningless because many of the questions are vague, there is no control group, and no data from dropouts are tabulated and that unless these shortcomings are corrected there is no reason to regard the study as anything but a gimmick to get families to buy Juice Plus+® products. [Barrett S. Questionable Research by the Juice Plus Children's Research Foundation. MLM Watch, March 2, 2004.]

FTC terminates Zoetron/CSCT cancer scam. CSCT, Inc., John Leslie Armstrong, and Michael John Reynolds have signed a consent agreement barring them from marketing Zoetron therapy or making unsubstantiated claims in connection with the marketing and sale of any service, program, food, drug, or device. The Zoetron device emits a pulsed magnetic field that is weaker than that of a typical refrigerator magnet. Its promoters falsely claimed that cancer cells accumulate iron and that the device vibrated these cells, causing them to overheat and die. The settlement contains a judgment of $7,650,000 that is suspended because the defendants allege they cannot pay it, but which can be enforced if the FTC finds that they misrepresented their financial status. The settlement also prohibits the defendants from selling identifying information about anyone whose information was obtained in connection with the marketing of their services. [Canadian company settles FTC charges that it offered bogus cancer therapy to U.S. citizens. FTC news release, Feb 25, 2004] The treatment originally was called cell specific cancer therapy (CSCT). Quackwatch has a detailed report.

Chiropractor/radio host arrested for tax evasion. Bruce Eric Hedendal, D.C., who had fled from Florida after being indicted, has been extradited from Australia and is now in detention awaiting trial on thee counts of income tax evasion. Hedendal practiced for many years in Boca Raton, Florida and hosted a syndicated radio talk show that broadcast to a few stations and through the Internet. In August 2000, a federal grand jury in West Palm Beach charged him with evading taxes for the years 1993 through 1995. After receiving a summons, Hedendal fled to Canada, Grenada, and ultimately to Brisbane, Australia, where he practiced under the names Erik Hedendahl and Park Road Holistic Centre and hosted another radio show. The indictment states that Hedendal had attempted to evade paying a total of about $180,000 in taxes on income of about $561,000 by failing to file returns and concealing his true income through the use of sham trusts, false entries on business records, and false representations to the Internal Revenue Service for the 3-year period. At the detention hearing, the government stated that Hedendal had purchased the trust arrangements from John Philip Ellis, Sr. a "tax protester" who created and promoted American Asset Protection (AAP) in West Palm Beach. Ellis claimed the trusts were "foreign" to the United States and tax-exempt, but testimony at his trial indicated that his business was based on contorted definitions and interpretations of the Internal Revenue Code and U.S. Constitution. In 2002, Ellis was sentenced to 10-1/2 years in federal prison for obstructing justice and conspiring to defraud the United States. Hedendal has pled not guilty to the three charges (one for each year), each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine. With penalties and interest, he owes the U.S. Government $742,000. [Barrett S. Fugitive chiropractor (Bruce Hedendal) facing trial for tax evasion. Chirobase Feb 26, 2004]

Chiropractors, naturopaths marketing dubious health assessment. About 200 practitioners, mostly chiropractors and naturopaths, have begun using the NutriScan® Targeted Health Assessment, an online questionnaire that is promised to provide science-based "personal nutrient recommendations." The test includes about 35 questions about lifestyle habits, dietary habits, circadian rhythms, current health conditions, genetic predispositions to disease, allergy contraindications, drug-nutrient interactions, drug-herb interactions, and (alleged) drug-related nutrient depletion. After completing the test, the taker is given a list of "core nutrient needs" and the monthly cost of supplements for meeting these alleged needs, and then is invited to add comments for the referring practitioner or another health professional who reviews them along with the test responses, makes final recommendations, and earns a commission that depends on the size of the order. After taking the test about 50 times, Dr. Stephen Barrett found that the daily cost of the recommended products ranged from $ 0.87 to $1.85 for healthy persons and considerably higher for people with health problems. Dr. Barrett concluded:

Questionnaires do not provide a legitimate basis for recommending that people take dietary supplements. Properly constructed tests can determine whether or not a person's diet contains adequate amounts of nutrients. However, if a shortfall is found, the next step should usually be to improve one's diet. NutriScan's questionnaire is too superficial to do a proper dietary evaluation, and many of the recommendations built into the software program are not based on good science. Even if they were, the recommended product would be poor value because some of the ingredients are useless and the rest can be obtained much less expensively elsewhere. [Barrett S. NutriScan Targeted Health Assessment: Another "Test" to Avoid. Quackwatch, Feb 21, 2004]

Court upholds conviction of "hyperimmune" egg marketers. A United States District Judge has denied the post-trial motions for acquittal and new trial filed by Marilyn A. Coleman, Ph.D., Mitchell V. Kaminski, Jr., M.D., and OvImmune, Inc. In 2003, each was convicted of violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act 15 times in the manufacture and sale of "hyperimmune" egg products to treat various human diseases. The violations included introducing unapproved new and misbranded drugs into interstate commerce, misbranding and adulterating drugs while they were held for sale after shipment in interstate commerce, and failing to register a drug manufacturing facility. The products were made from eggs and egg powders that OvImmune claimed contained antibodies to various human diseases. In their marketing materials, Coleman and OvImmune described their egg powder as "magic bullets" that could cure, mitigate, treat or prevent various diseases including AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, attention deficit disorder, autism, cancer, candidiasis, Chlamydia, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis. Evidence presented during the trial showed that the company had bought approximately 10,000 chickens to inject with the vaccines. They then powdered or freeze-dried some of the eggs, packaged the powder, and promoted the products through news releases, television and newspaper interviews, and over the Internet. [Two convicted for making, selling "magic bullet" egg powder: Richwood woman, Illinois man committed food and drug violations. USDOJ news release, July 23, 2003] Although the defendants contended that the products were "dietary supplements," the associated health claims made them subject to federal regulation as drugs.

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This page was revised on March 3, 2004.