Attorney General Hardy Myers today sued an Ohio company for misleading Oregonians about the effectiveness of its so-called "nutraceuticals" or herbal supplements and for failing to inform consumers who thought that they were receiving a "free" trial offer when in fact, they were being enrolled in a plan that automatically billed them for future shipments of products. Named in the lawsuit filed today in Marion County Circuit Court are Steve Warshak of Cincinnati, Ohio and his firms Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals, Lifekey, Inc., Boland Naturals, Inc., Warner Health Care, and Wagner Nutraceuticals.
"More than 100 Oregon consumers complained to our office and the Better Business Bureau about being enticed with the promise of a free trial offer only to be billed for pill shipments that they had not ordered," Myers said. "In addition, these companies inundated our state with outrageous claims about herbal remedies and were unable to back them up with scientific evidence. This type of marketing will not be tolerated in our state."
Berkeley makes an array of herbal products that claim to produce "firmer, fuller" erections for men, increased libido for women and such things as better night vision, memory recall, weight control and energy. A silent television character named Smiling Bob promotes its best-known product, a male enhancement pill called Enzyte.
The lawsuit alleges that Warshak's companies, which expected to take in a quarter of a billion dollars in sales in 2004 through the sale of 15 different products around the nation (including, Altovis, Avlimil, Avlimil Complete, Dromias, Enzyte, Mioplex, Ogoplex, Numovil, Pinadol, Prulato, Rogisen, Rovicid, Suvaril, Nuproxi, and Rudofil) hooked customers with advertisements, including the "Smiling Bob" Enzyte commercials and other commercials that resembled advertisements for genuine pharmaceutical drugs, promising "free" 30-day trials of their products. When consumers called the companies' toll-free numbers or visited their websites to order the pills, they were asked to provide credit or debit card information to pay shipping and handling charges. But the companies failed to tell consumers that they would automatically bill them for additional shipments of pills. When consumers tried to stop the automatic payments for what the companies called their "continuity program" or "home delivery plan," Warshak's companies often made it difficult for people to cancel their subscriptions or get their money back.
In addition, the complaint alleges that Warshak and his companies made unsubstantiated claims about their products' effectiveness. Berkeley and the other companies described their products as "the best natural supplements to help improve your health" and called them "nutraceuticals." The complaint alleges that in reality, the companies did not have competent and reliable scientific evidence to back up their advertised health claims.
The lawsuit seeks restitution for all victims and seeks a permanent injunction barring Warshak and his companies from operating any business in Oregon that deals with prescription and non-prescription drugs, nutritional supplements or any products that claim to cure or prevent diseases in humans. The lawsuit also seeks $25,000 in civil penalties per each Unlawful Trade Practice violation and reasonable attorney fees.
In addition, the Attorneys General of Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Arkansas today filed similar suits against Berkeley in their respective courts. In the multi-state investigation, there were extensive document review, undercover purchases and lengthy settlement negotiations that ultimately failed to reach a settlement so it became necessary for the Attorneys General to sue.
In March 2005, U.S. Postal Inspectors, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Food and Drug Administration and the Internal Revenue Service raided three of Berkeley's buildings in Ohio. No charges, arrests or indictments have been made and the joint investigation continues.
Consumers want to file complaints against these companies may call the Attorney General's consumer hotline at (503) 378-4320 (Salem area only), (503) 229-5576 (Portland area only) or toll-free at 1-877-877-9392. Justice is online at www.doj.state.or.us.
Jan Margosian, (503) 947-4333 (media line only) firstname.lastname@example.org