A pattern all too familiar in the world of anti-doping and combat sports is that of ‘tainted supplements’. An athlete tests positive for a prohibited substance. They deny wrongdoing and go through time money and effort to test all supplements they’ve ingested. A culprit is found with a supplement containing the prohibited substance that is not listed on the label. The athlete then fights to clear their name with anti doping regulators and athletic commissions.
There are several documented instances of this occurring in MMA with some fighters eventually clearing their names and even pursuing civil lawsuits against such manufacturers. In an interesting development this week the US Department of Justice published a press release noting that criminal charges have now been brought against several individuals and labs involved in an alleged scheme to sell steroids under the guise of supplements. In the press release (H/T to twitter’s @GlobeSvcs) the DOJ reveals the following details:
Six people and two Florida corporations were charged in an indictment for their roles in a scheme to distribute illegal dietary supplements, the Department of Justice announced today.
Phillip Braun, 38, of Boca Raton, Florida, Aaron Singerman, 39, of Delray Beach, Florida, Robert DiMaggio, 49, of Henderson, Nevada, Anthony Ventrella, 41, of Boynton Beach, Florida, David Winsauer, 32, of Boca Raton, Florida, and James Boccuzzi, 34, of Parkland, Florida, were charged in a 14-count indictment that was returned by a federal grand jury in Miami, Florida on March 7, 2019, and was unsealed today. The indictment also charged Blackstone Labs and Ventech Labs, two Florida limited liability companies in Palm Beach County, Florida.
The indictment alleges that the defendants sold hundreds of thousands of illegal products, including anabolic steroids, nationwide and internationally, fraudulently representing that those products and pills were high-quality, legal dietary supplements. According to the indictment, the defendants created an illicit manufacturing company and routed sales of illegal products through trusted distributors, knowing that the products were unsafe or could not legally be sold to consumers.
“Fraud by supplement manufacturers and distributors is extremely dangerous for consumers, who rightly assume that a dietary supplement product sold in stores or online will not contain unapproved drugs,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “These products are not safe and that is why we will continue to aggressively pursue and prosecute those who import, manufacture, and distribute dangerous and illegal ingredients for fraudulent purposes.”
“Consumers who use dietary supplements expect those products to be safe. When they contain drugs that are not FDA-approved, the health of the public is put at risk,” said Catherine A. Hermsen, Acting Director, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations. “We will continue to pursue and bring to justice those who place consumers’ health in jeopardy.”
All of the defendants were charged with one count of a conspiracy to defraud consumers and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by selling products labeled as dietary supplements that contained unapproved new drugs, illegal steroids, and other ingredients that were hazardous and prohibited by law. The indictment also charges Braun, an owner of Blackstone Labs, and Singerman, a former company owner, with two counts of introducing a product known as Super DMZ RX 2.0, an unapproved new drug, into interstate commerce. The maximum punishment for the conspiracy to defraud is five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. The maximum punishment for each of the two counts of introducing an unapproved new drug is three years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.
The indictment further charges Braun, Singerman, and six other defendants with one count of a conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids, which are Schedule III controlled substances under federal law and which may cause kidney failure, liver damage, and other permanent health problems when misused. The indictment alleges that one person suffered serious bodily injury from the use of one of the steroids involved in the conspiracy. The maximum punishment for the conspiracy to distribute controlled substances is 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of $500,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.
The indictment additionally charges several defendants in three separate counts of distribution of anabolic steroids and charges Ventrella with one count of possession of an anabolic steroid with the intent to distribute. The maximum punishment for each count of distribution of a controlled substance and for the count of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute is 10 years in prison and a fine of $500,000. Finally, Braun and Singerman are each charged with three counts of money laundering. The maximum punishment for each money laundering charge is 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the amount of the property involved in the money laundering transaction.
“Illegal dietary supplements pose a public health risk,” stated U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida and our partners at the Food and Drug Administration strive to ensure that consumers are fully apprised of the ingredients contained in the substances they are ingesting. Those who attempt to circumvent the law and create a public safety hazard will be held accountable.”
This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Alistair Reader and David Frank of the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch, with assistance from Daren Grove, Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. The case was investigated by FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations with assistance from Sarah Hawkins of the Office of Chief Counsel.An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Additional information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts may be found at www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. For more information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, visit its website at https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdfl.