Readout of Justice Department Officials' Trip to Ghana and Togo to Advance West Africa Consumer Fraud Initiative
Nutritional supplement company Quickwork LLC and one of its managers, Eric Anthony Nepute, have agreed to injunctions and to pay civil penalties to resolve a lawsuit alleging they deceptively marketed vitamin supplements during the COVID-19 pandemic, in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act and the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act. The resolution of this lawsuit follows an order issued by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri on July 19, awarding partial summary judgment to the government.
In a complaint filed on April 15, 2021, the government alleged that the defendants made misleading and unsubstantiated advertising claims that their Vitamin D and Zinc supplements could be used to treat or prevent COVID-19, and in fact provide equal or better protection against COVID-19 than the available COVID-19 vaccines. The complaint also alleged that the defendants had mischaracterized the results of scientific studies to support some of their claims.
In an order entered on Nov. 14, 2022, Quickwork agreed to an injunction and a $1 million civil penalty, partially suspended due to an inability to pay. On July 19, the court granted partial summary judgment against Nepute, finding that there was no reasonable basis in the record to support claims that Zinc can treat or prevent COVID-19, or that Vitamin D or Zinc provide equal or better protection against COVID-19 than the available COVID-19 vaccines. In an order entered on Aug. 2, Nepute agreed to an injunction and to pay $80,000 in civil penalties.
The court’s injunctions prohibit the defendants from advertising that their supplements can prevent, cure, mitigate, or treat COVID-19 without competent and reliable scientific evidence to support such claims. The defendants are also banned from misrepresenting the results of COVID-19 research in their advertising. The defendants agreed to pay damages in the event that they make prohibited representations in the future.
“Consumers have a right to receive truthful information when deciding whether to purchase products,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department's Civil Division. “This is especially important when claims about those products could affect how consumers seek to protect themselves during a pandemic.”
The case was handled by attorneys in the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch, including Trial Attorneys Benjamin Cornfeld, Brandon Robers, Zachary Cowan, Rachel Baron, and Meredith Reiter, as well as Assistant Directors Lisa Hsiao and Rachael Doud, with support and assistance from Federal Trade Commission (FTC) staff.
For more information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts, visit its website at www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. For more information about the FTC, visit its website at www.FTC.gov.