PhotoHoodia Gordonii is a cactus grown in Africa's Kalahari and eaten by the San Bushmen there. It supposedly curbs your appetite and helps you lose weight. Whether it does is open to question, but it's sort of a moot point because it's illegal to export the plant from Africa.

That might make one wonder how companies like Nutraceuticals International LLC and Stella Labs LLC could market food, drugs and dietary supplements supposedly bursting with the prized cactus juice, denounced by our Dr. Henry J. Fishman as a waste of time way back in 2005.

The Federal Trade Commission got wind of the hoodia situation and has now  settled charges brought against three people and two companies for deceptive advertising.

The FTC said the marketers were part of a scheme that supplied manufacturers of weight-loss supplements with a substance they claimed was a derivative of hoodia.

Under the settlements:

  • David J. Romeo, and two companies he controlled, Nutraceuticals International LLC and Stella Labs LLC, are banned from making any weight-loss claims while marketing foods, drugs, and dietary supplements. The settlement imposes a $22.5 million judgment against Romeo and the two companies, which will be suspended when Romeo forfeits his vacation home in Vermont, and assigns to the FTC the right to collect on $635,000 in business loans owed to him. If it is later determined that the financial information Romeo gave the FTC was false, the full amount of the judgment will become due.
  • Nutraceuticals International principal Craig Payton is banned from marketing any foods, drugs, or dietary supplements. The order against Payton does not require him to forfeit any assets, as they were already seized in an unrelated federal drug case.
  • Nutraceuticals International marketing executive Deborah B. Vickery is required to pay a $4 million judgment, which has been suspended due to her inability to pay. If it is later determined that the financial information she gave the FTC was false, the full amount of the judgment will become due.
  • All five defendants are prohibited from making any false or unsupported claims about foods, drugs, or dietary supplements, and from helping others to make these claims. They also are barred from misrepresenting the results of any scientific study.


In its 2009 complaint, the FTC alleged that the defendants made false and deceptive claims about hoodia and its effectiveness as a treatment for obesity, and falsely claimed that their ingredient was hoodia when it was not.

The complaint also alleged that the defendants falsely and deceptively claimed their product would enable consumers to lose weight and suppress appetites; was scientifically proven to suppress appetite, resulting in weight loss; and was clinically proven to reduce caloric intake by 1,000 to 2,000 calories per day.

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