A Boca Raton, FL., man has been sentenced to 20 years in prison in connection with the marketing of a purported weigh loss product.
U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth A. Marra sentenced Frank Sarcona, a/k/a Frank Sarcone, a/k/a Dave Johnson, 58, for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and criminal contempt of court; conspiracy to commit money laundering; and multiple counts of substantive mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, misbranding of a food, and criminal contempt of court.
Sarcona defrauded more than 130,000 customers out of more than $7 million by claiming that the product, Lipoban, was sold in conjunction with a medical facility and clinical test.
According to court documents and statements made in court, Sarcona marketed Lipoban through newspapers, national magazines, the Internet and direct mail solicitation. Millions of letters were mailed to consumers across the U.S., inviting them to participate in what Sarcona termed "a restricted nationwide test" of a new product that would promote large weight loss without diet and exercise.
The ads created the false impression that a study was being conducted in conjunction with a healthcare clinic, the Lipoban Clinic, and that those who purchased the product would participate in that study. Virtually every customer was told that he/she was test participant #731.
Included in the mailings was a letter from Dr. Joseph Maya, the purported medical director of the Lipoban Clinic. The printed material falsely contained the statement that the "clinic" had a team of weight loss and nutrition professionals. In addition, a newsprint insert included in the mailing falsely claimed that a New York cardiologist endorsed Lipoban.
In fact, evidence introduced at trial showed the "clinic" was located at the residence of a co-defendant and later at an office in an industrial park. Dr. Jose (not Joseph, as stated in the material) Maya Behar was not licensed to practice medicine in the U.S., but only in Mexico. Dr. Maya never came to the "clinic" or performed any services for the clinic.
The "clinic" was not conducting any study nor were there weight loss and nutrition professionals on site. Further, the referenced cardiologist never endorsed Lipoban and stated that diet and exercise was essential in any weight loss program.
Sarcona funneled the monies he received from the scam into the bank account of a defunct corporation he maintained solely for personal use. Thereafter, large sums of money were withdrawn as cash or transferred into other accounts in the name of a nominee. Sarcona was given a signature stamp so that he could write checks on those accounts, and used some checks to purchase valuable real estate in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In 1999, U.S. District Court Judge Ferguson issued a final injunction (FTC v. SlimAmerica, Frank Sarcona et. al.,) prohibiting Sarcona from engaging in deceptive sales and marketing practices because of his sale of another weight loss product. Almost immediately after the injunction was issued, Sarcona started the marketing and sale of Lipoban, using the name Dave Johnson to hide his identity.
A special Web site has been established to handle victims' requests for restitution.
The SlimAmerica scam is just one example of how consumers get ripped off by weight-loss fraud perpetrators.
Barb from Mechanicsburg, PA, tells ConsumerAffairs.com that she ordered a $200.00 kit from globalweightlosscure.com. She says when she printed out the confirmation record, "there was NO INFORMATION WHATSOEVER, no phone number, address, tracking number, nothing. I emailed them constantly using the 'contact us' form with no reply, even gave them more than one email address and checked my spam. My credit card statement had the number they gave, which turns out to be fraudulent, it doesn't exist."
"Returned Weight Loss book purchased from Kevin Trudeau within 30 days of receiving it," writes Alfred from Claremont, NH. "Have not received the promised refund. This was a year ago. Saw his new commercial for his Debt Cures book so called again. After many phone numbers later, we gave up trying to reach a customer service rep."
Natasha of Madison, TN, reports ordering the Fluidity Bar and 3 Fluidity workout videos. Purchase cost of 239.70, paying in 6 payments of 39.95 (Total cost with 10 priority processing fee & 49.95 shipping is 299.65). "I received my Fluidity Bar a few weeks later from the ordering date," she tells ConsumerAffairs.com, "but the 3 workout videos were not included. I immediately called customer service and to advise that I did not receive the 3 workout videos and the order was placed to have videos sent with no cost to me. My account has been charged 3 of the 6 payments to date, and to date I have still not received the videos."
The federal government continues its efforts to crack down on unscrupulous marketers of weight-loss products, and from time-to-time even scores a victory .