Stocks of nutritional-supplement companies dropped on Tuesday on reports that the Department of Justice would take actions related to dietary-supplement sales and unlawful ads.
Shares of GNC, Vitamin Shoppe, and Herbalife were all lower on the pending announcement. GNC's share price fell by more than 20%, hitting $22.64, a 12-month low. The stock rebounded to close down 6.4% at $29.05 per share.
UPDATE: The DOJ's announcement is out now and it doesn't name any of those companies.
Here's the release:
As part of a nationwide sweep, the Department of Justice and its federal partners have pursued civil and criminal cases against more than 100 makers and marketers of dietary supplements. The actions discussed today resulted from a year-long effort, beginning in November 2014, to focus enforcement resources in an area of the dietary supplement market that is causing increasing concern among health officials nationwide. In each case, the department or one of its federal partners allege the sale of supplements that contain ingredients other than those listed on the product label or the sale of products that make health or disease treatment claims that are unsupported by adequate scientific evidence.
Among the cases announced today is a criminal case charging USPlabs LLC and several of its corporate officers. USPlabs was known for its widely popular workout and weight loss supplements, which it sold under names such as Jack3d and OxyElite Pro.
The sweep includes federal court cases in 18 states and was announced today by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division; Deputy Commissioner for Global Regulatory Operations and Policy Howard Sklamberg J.D. of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); Acting Deputy Director J. Reilly Dolan of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s Bureau of Consumer Protection; Acting Deputy Chief Inspector Gary Barksdale of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS); and Chief Richard Weber of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Criminal Investigation (CI) Division. The Department of Defense (DoD) and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) are also participating in the sweep to unveil new tools to increase awareness of the risks unlawful dietary supplements pose to consumers and, in particular, to assist service members targeted by illegitimate athletic performance supplements.
“The Justice Department and its federal partners have joined forces to bringing to justice companies and individuals who profit from products that threaten consumer health,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mizer. “The USPlabs case and others brought as part of this sweep illustrate alarming practices the department found—practices that must be brought to the public’s attention so consumers know the serious health risks of untested products.”
During the period of the sweep, 117 individuals and entities were pursued through criminal and civil enforcement actions. Of these, 89 were the subject of cases filed since November 2014.
An 11-count indictment was unsealed earlier today against USPlabs LLC, a Dallas firm, which formerly manufactured highly popular workout and weight loss supplements. The indictment charges USPlabs, S.K. Laboratories Inc., based in Anaheim, California, and their operators with a variety of charges related to the sale of those products. Jacobo Geissler, 39, of University Park, Texas, the CEO of USPlabs; Jonathan Doyle, 37, of Dallas, the president of USPlabs; Matthew Hebert, 37, of Dallas, responsible for product packaging design at USPlabs; Kenneth Miles, 69, of Panama City, Florida, the quality assurance executive in charge of compliance at USPlabs; S.K. Laboratories Inc.; Sitesh Patel, 32, of Irvine, California, the vice president of S.K. Laboratories; and Cyril Willson, 34, of Gretna, Nebraska, a consultant to USPlabs, are charged with various counts associated with the unlawful sale of dietary supplements. Additionally, USPlabs, Geissler, Doyle and Hebert are charged with obstruction of an FDA proceeding and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Four of the defendants were arrested earlier today and the other two will self-surrender. Along with the arrests, FDA and IRS-CI special agents seized assets in dozens of investment accounts, real estate in Texas and a number of luxury and sports cars.
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. According to the indictment, USPlabs told some of its retailers and wholesalers that it used natural plant extracts in products called Jack3d and OxyElite Pro, when in fact it was using a synthetic stimulant manufactured in a Chinese chemical factory.
The indictment also alleges that the defendants sold some of their products without determining whether they would be safe to use. In fact, as the indictment notes, the defendants knew 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 distribution of OxyElite Pro after the product had been implicated in an outbreak of liver injuries. The indictment alleges that, despite this promise, USPlabs engaged in a surreptitious, all-hands-on-deck effort to sell as much OxyElite Pro as it could as quickly as possible. It was sold at dietary supplement stores across the nation.
“This joint agency effort is a testament to our commitment to protecting consumers from potentially unsafe dietary supplements and products falsely marketed as dietary supplements,” said Deputy Commissioner Sklamberg. “The criminal charges against USPlabs should serve as notice to industry that if products are a threat to public health, the FDA will exercise its full authority under the law to bring justice.”
Today’s criminal charges are among 14 criminal cases prosecuted by the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country from November 2014 to November 2015. See this chart. Of the 14 criminal cases prosecuted during this timeframe, 11 cases against 29 individuals and entities have been filed since November 2014.
The charges and allegations in the indictments are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Here's how the stocks reacted midday when the DOJ said it would take criminal and civil action against unnamed dietary-supplement companies:
Here's Vitamin Shoppe:
And here's Herbalife:
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