June 15, 2005
MADIGAN, WHITAKER ACT TO STOP
BERKELEY PREMIUM NUTRACEUTICALS CAN’T SUPPORT
CHICAGO – Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Eric E. Whitaker today filed a lawsuit to stop a businessman and his five allegedly fraudulent companies from continuing to sell pills they falsely claim could improve a variety of health problems, including poor night vision, high cholesterol and obesity.
Madigan and Whitaker’s suit, filed today in Sangamon County Circuit Court, charges Steve Warshak, of Cincinnati, Ohio, and his firms Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals, Inc., Lifekey, Inc., Warner Health Care, Inc., Boland Naturals, Inc., and Wagner Nutraceuticals, Inc., with violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act and the Illinois Food Drug and Cosmetic Act.
The Attorneys General of Arkansas, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon and Texas also filed lawsuits today against Warshak and his companies, whose commercials include the character Smilin’ Bob. The lawsuits were filed after more than 6,400 consumers nationwide filed complaints about the products, with 34 consumer complaints lodged in Illinois with Madigan’s Consumer Protection Division. Most of the complaints were received in Ohio, where the companies are based, by that state’s Attorney General’s Office and Better Business Bureau.
“Consumers across the country have seen advertisements on television offering free trials of pills that could help cure them of medical conditions,” Madigan said. “In reality, the companies couldn’t back up their claims with actual scientific evidence and the consumers’ credit cards were being charged for additional pills they never ordered.”
“This company has made false promises to vulnerable people who are hoping to cure their ailments or just feel better,” said Dr. Whitaker. “However, there is no evidence that these pills can help improve one’s health. For that reason, I felt we needed to take action. We are living in a time when the integrity of medicine and science has been called into question. This action will help to reaffirm the public’s trust in the medical community.”
Madigan and Whitaker’s suit claims that Warshak’s companies, which have sold at least 15 different products around the nation, made unsubstantiated claims about their products’ powers. Berkeley and the other companies described their products as “the best natural supplements to help improve your health” and called them “nutraceuticals.” In reality, the companies allegedly did not have competent and reliable scientific evidence to back up their claims.
As alleged in the complaint, Berkeley and the other companies hooked customers with advertisements promising “free” 30-day trials of their products. When consumers called the companies’ toll-free numbers or visited their Web sites 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 to cancel the subscriptions or obtain refunds.
Berkeley’s practices also have attracted the attention of federal authorities. In March, agents from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Federal Bureau of Investigations, Internal Revenue Service and Food and Drug Administration raided Berkeley’s headquarters. A federal judge has frozen $24 million in Warshak’s bank accounts relating to a federal investigation.
Madigan and Whitaker’s lawsuit asks the court to prohibit the defendants from conducting business in Illinois and order the defendants to pay full restitution to consumers. The lawsuit also seeks a civil penalty of $50,000 and additional penalties of $50,000 per violation found to be committed with the intent to defraud.
Assistant Attorney General Karen Winberg-Jensen is handling the case for Madigan’s Consumer Protection Division.
of Public Health
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Springfield, Illinois 62761
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