“As scams targeting consumers grow and becomes more sophisticated, those in law enforcement charged with combating such schemes must do the same,” West said. He said the division was reorganized to sharpen its focus in traditional areas, such as ensuring the safety of drugs, medical devices, food and dietary supplements, and maintaining a level playing field for those seeking to purchase small business opportunities. The branch also expanded its footprint to cover areas like mortgage fraud, immigration services fraud, and new forms of telemarketing abuse, thus bringing its criminal and civil enforcement resources to bear against a wide range of practices that harm consumers.
Health care fraud and food safety cases were the sources of the Consumer Protection Branch’s largest recoveries in 2011. The branch brought enforcement actions in response to a number of violations, including unlawful promotion of pharmaceuticals, misleading statements made to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about medical devices, the sale of adulterated food and unsafe food, and drug manufacturing practices.
The branch recovered more than $842 million in criminal fines and forfeiture and $40,372 in restitution, secured 12 convictions, and obtained sentences totaling 220 months in prison against 11 individuals. In addition, the branch recovered $35 million in civil penalties and won 14 civil injunctions against defendants that failed to manufacture food or drug products safely.
West said the Consumer Protection Branch has responded to the financial crisis by aggressively pursuing various forms of financial fraud, including the sale of bogus reverse mortgages to elderly homeowners, the sale of phony business franchises to budding entrepreneurs trying to earn an honest living and telemarketing operations that “cram” false charges on consumers’ telephone bills. In 2011, the branch secured 19 convictions, with prison sentences totaling more than 100 years, and recovered more than $30 million in civil penalties and restitution – including more than $22 million that went back to victims.
In 2011, the Consumer Protection Branch promoted product safety by prosecuting individuals and companies for making false statements concerning safety testing, illegally selling explosives (such as fireworks), and importing products that do not meet the nation’s safety standards. In addition, the branch investigated and prosecuted individuals who deceived used car buyers through odometer rollback scams. In these two areas, the branch won multiple criminal convictions, obtained prison sentences totaling more than 10 years, and recovered more than $5 million.
The Consumer Protection Branch complimented its affirmative criminal and civil enforcement work in 2011 by defending the decisions of government agencies charged with protecting consumers. The branch successfully defended cases involving, for example, the FDA’s rejection of an unsafe drug and approval of a generic drug to increase consumers’ market choices; the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) approval of a regulation to shield consumers from unfair business practices; and the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) recall of an unsafe product.