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Press Release

Retired New Jersey Doctor Convicted at Trial of Selling Toxic Chemical as Weight-loss Drug

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney Jacqueline C. Romero announced that William Merlino, 85, of Mays Landing, NJ, was convicted at trial of selling misbranded drugs online, arising from his scheme to sell a toxic industrial chemical as a weight-loss drug which he manufactured in a lab in his home.

In December 2019, the defendant was charged with one count of introduction of misbranded drugs into interstate commerce in connection with operating a business through which he packaged and sold Dinitriophenol (DNP) for human consumption from at least November 2017 until March 2019. In the 1930s, before the law required drugs to be proven safe before they were marketed, DNP was used as a weight-loss drug despite significant negative side effects, including dehydration, cataracts, liver damage, and death. The chemical has never been approved for human consumption by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but has a variety of industrial/commercial uses, such as herbicides, dyes, and wood preservatives. Using Twitter to advertise, eBay to sell, and email to communicate with clients, Merlino earned approximately $54,000 from clients in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. through the sale of this drug. During trial, a witness from the shipping service the defendant used to ship the drug to customers testified that they referred to Merlino among their colleagues as ‘the yellow man,’ due to the fact that every time he would bring in a package to ship, he would have yellow dust from the chemical on his skin, nails and clothes.

After a year-long investigation by the FDA, investigators served a search warrant at the defendant’s residence, where they found bulk DNP, packaging and encapsulating materials, and a pill press. Subsequently, while awaiting trial on this charge, Merlino faked a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in order to attempt to avoid trial; the jury heard evidence that the defendant altered a doctor’s letter and his medical records. As a result, the defendant is now separately facing obstruction of justice charges related to these fraudulent submissions to the court.

“The United States sets standards for the foods and drugs we ingest in order to keep American consumers and patients safe,” said U.S. Attorney Romero. “The defendant knowingly skirted our country’s regulations by marketing an unsafe chemical to people hoping for a quick and easy solution. This scheme put many people’s health and safety at risk. We urge everyone to refrain from ingesting DNP for any reason.”

“The distribution of misbranded, unapproved and dangerous drugs in the U.S. marketplace puts consumers’ health at risk,” said Special Agent in Charge George A. Scavdis, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Metro Washington Field Office. “We will continue to pursue and bring to justice those who jeopardize the public health.”

“The Postal Service has no interest in being the unwitting accomplice to anyone using the U.S. Mail to distribute contraband or other harmful substances,” said Damon Wood, Inspector in Charge of the Philadelphia Division of the United States Postal Inspection Service. “One of the Inspection Service’s key objectives is to rid the mail of illegal and dangerous substances that at best fleece our fellow citizens, and at worst, cause serious harm. William Merlino is no different than the snake oil salesmen from a century ago. Thanks to hard work of the Inspectors, Special Agents from the FDA and an Assistant United States Attorney’s Office, a jury saw through Merlino’s lies and held him accountable.”

The case was investigated by U.S. Food & Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations, U. S. Postal Inspection Service, and Homeland Security Investigations and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Joan Burnes


615 Chestnut Street, Suite 1250
Philadelphia, PA 19106

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Updated August 8, 2022