A web of interrelated North County enterprises — known for high-pressure TV ads — professes its products will help you peel off body fat. But to conceal what it is doing, this group of purported health-care-product distributors has gotten rather bloated itself.
For example, if you go to California secretary of state records, you will find these interlinked limited liability companies registered: Continuity Products, Obesity Research Institute, Pounds Lost, Zylotrim, Dencor Research, Cell Genetics, Appetrol, Zodiac Foundation, Cyvita, Finance Marketing, Hdusdu, and Beau Cheveux. The last two have been canceled.
By touting alleged “clinical studies” that back up their claims, the promoters have sold a slew of so-called dietary and health products: Lipozene, Cyvita, I-PAK, Excelerene, MetaboUp, Lumanex, Appetrol, Vita 26, Metabo Pro, and Pounds Lost, to name a few.
The companies are run by Henny Den Uijl and Bryan Corlett, although some of the entities may be run by one or the other, not jointly. The companies have various headquarter locations: Carlsbad, Encinitas, Rancho Santa Fe, and Reno, Nevada. The two principals and the in-house lawyer, Joshua Weiss, did not return repeated phone calls.
In 2005, the Federal Trade Commission sued Den Uijl, Corlett, Obesity Research Institute, and FiberThin in federal court in San Diego. The case was settled. The commission ruled that four products — FiberThin, Propolene, MetaboUp, and Excelerene, which then had aggregate gross sales of $41 million — must stop claiming in ads that they bring substantial weight loss without any need for special diets or exercise and that all users can benefit. Two years earlier, the commission, in its war against bogus weight-loss advertising, had declared such claims verboten.
Result: the marketers had to cough up $1.5 million in consumer redress and were permanently enjoined from making such representations.
Then, in 2009 in state court in Los Angeles, an individual claimed that Obesity Research Institute and Corlett were making similar false claims for weight-loss-treatment Lipozene. The same year, another individual in the same court said that Zylotrim, a purported weight-loss product marketed by the same web of companies, violated unfair competition, unjust enrichment, and breach of warranty laws. The cases were consolidated.
Early last year, the suits were settled. Zylotrim would cease business, and Lipozene advertising would pump out no more false statements. Lawyers were awarded a combined sum of $325,000.
On January 12, in federal court in San Diego, lawyer Ronald Marron filed a class action suit against Obesity Research Institute for unfair competition and violation of consumer laws. The alleged villains were Lipozene and MetaboUp. Through its ads, the so-called institute “claims that the products not only cause rapid and significant weight loss, but also that the weight loss consists of body fat as opposed to other types of weight loss,” says the suit.
Indeed, Lipozene on its website asserts that 78 percent of each pound lost is pure body fat; this dubious claim is backed by clinical studies that are not identified, according to the suit. Lipozene says it can peel off your fat “without making major lifestyle changes that can be potentially harmful to your system.” Hmm. Sounds like clever wording to skate around the Federal Trade Commission’s ruling. The suit says the Lipozene ad copy violates the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act.
Beau Cheveux touted Nutra Renew hair spray in a 30-minute infomercial. The Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program, set up by the nonprofit National Advertising Review Council in 2004 to monitor deceptive advertising, studied the product’s claims, one of which was that you can have “silky, shiny, smooth hair…in seconds right before your eyes.” No way, declared the regulator.
Product claims of the interconnected North County web get a lot of criticism online. Cyvita is an herbal erectile dysfunction pill. Ads boast of “longer, stronger, more frequent erections” and you get “a 1 week supply without a prescription.” Hmm. Mark Vaughan has a website, youarenotafitperson.com, that examines just such assertions. He notes that Cialis and Levitra are two of the most popular drugs for erectile dysfunction. To Vaughan, the name Cyvita seems like a clever combination of the two.
In assessing Lipozene, Vaughan, too, pored over websites in which the marketers claim that clinical studies back up such assertions as 78 percent of each pound lost is pure body fat. But he can’t find those clinical studies, either. Promised refunds don’t come (a common complaint on the web), and Lipozene simply “doesn’t work,” says Vaughan.
Maggie Mahar, author of Healthbeatblog.com, titles her piece “Learning from Lipozene: The Anatomy of a Drug Scam.” While some say the major ingredient, glucomannan, can suppress appetite, none of the studies has involved Lipozene. It’s a case of “distorting research findings and over-selling effectiveness,” she says. And she points out that Lipozene is not only a TV advertising scam. It’s a multilevel marketing ruse, too — at least it was in 2008. Websites agree to host Lipozene ads and get a commission, as well as a payment for other websites they recruit into the pyramid.
The fiber in Lipozene can be helpful in weight loss, “but you can find much cheaper sources of fiber elsewhere, and then you don’t have to be caught up in the Lipozene customer service issues and billing scams,” says dietpill.org.
“Some companies practicing homeopathy fraud are as sneaky and slick as snake-oil salespeople,” says lawyersandsettlements.com, citing Lipozene and its supplier, Obesity Research Institute. The institute’s website boasts that Lipozene “is manufactured by a reputable organization known as the Obesity Research Institute.” Hmm.
So what does Lipozene do about all the authors saying the product is a scam? It has a website of its own, lipozenescam.org. The website concludes that Lipozene is not a scam — in fact, seems to be something of a miracle. “[Obesity Research Institute] does not disclose to consumers that the website is simply another advertisement by [Obesity Research Institute] for the products,” says Marron’s suit.
According to Maggie Mahar, the self-professed research institute considers fines “part of the cost of doing business.”