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Nutritional Supplement Maker in Boca Convicted of Fraud

Poor Frank Sarcona, AKA Frank Sarcone, AKA Dave Johnson. Whatever the chap's name, he lacks the creativity to concoct new scams. Sarcona -- let's stick with that -- was convicted last week by a federal jury for a host of fraud charges, after he violated the terms of an injunction that barred him from "deceptive marketing practices." Sarcona's specialty: weight-loss drugs that promised impossible results.

This criminal conviction came ten years after a civil regulator, the Federal Trade Commission, won a judgment against Sarcona for exactly the same kind of scam. A 1999 Sun-Sentinel article (sorry, but there isn't a link) explains how in the mid-1990s, Sarcona promised "SlimAmerica" buyers they could lose 49 pounds in 29 days without diet or exercise.

The physician who backed this improbable claim: Dr. Howard Retzer, who apparently knew nothing of it. FTC attorneys found Retzer in a nursing home -- the elderly man suffered from dementia and hadn't practiced medicine for years.

But by the time the lawsuits came against Sarcona, he insisted the money was gone -- only to have the FTC find $800,000 in a Bahamian account, according to the article.

The weasel's mighty lucky not to have been criminally charged in that endeavor, but some 100,000 customers of Lipoban were not so lucky. That's the name of the so-called trial product Sarcona launched, apparently in the months after the judgment against him. From the U.S. attorney's news release:

To sell the product, called Lipoban, Sarcona mailed and caused the mailing of letters to consumers inviting them to participate in a restricted nationwide test of a new product that would allegedly promote large weight losses without diet and exercise. Consumers were asked to purchase the product in order to participate. Sarcona created the false impression that the study was being carried out in conjunction with a healthcare clinic. To enhance this false impression, the mail order house was named the Lipoban Clinic, and the mailing stated that it was engaged in a nationwide study with limited participation. Each customer was led to believe that they were test participant number 731, as listed on the mailing.
This time, the doctor was real. Sort of. His name was not Joseph Maya but rather Jose Maya, and he wasn't licensed to practice in Florida. Just Mexico. And even then, prosecutors say he never actually came to the clinic or performed research of any kind.

But that scam was good enough for Sarcona to make some $16 million, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

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Thomas Francis

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