Former Metabolife Executive Gets 6 Months for Lying to FDAJun 10, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
The former chief of Metabolife has been sentenced to six months in jail for misleading federal regulators. Michael J. Ellis, 55, pleaded guilty in November to one count of making false statements to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 1999 regarding Metabolife 356. In addition to prison time, Ellis has been ordered to pay a $20,000 fine.
Metabolife 356 was a controversial dietary supplement that was used to control appetite and facilitate weight loss. Metabolife contained the stimulant Ephedra, which has been linked to serious side effects including seizures, heart attacks, and death. In 2004, the FDA banned the use of Ephedra in dietary supplements.
Ellis committed his crime when the FDA was considering subjecting Metabolife to stricter federal regulation. According to prosecutors, Ellis and the company sent letters to the FDA saying they had “never received a notice from a consumer that any serious adverse health event has occurred because of the ingestion of Metabolife 356.” Metabolife's own documents showed that it had received many reports from consumers of seizures, heart attacks, strokes, loss of consciousness and other serious illnesses, said the U.S. Attorney's Office.
On August 15, 2002, the Justice Department announced that it started a criminal investigation into whether Metabolife lied about the safety of the controversial dietary supplement. A few hours after news of the federal investigation on Metabolife was made public, Metabolife announced it would finally give the FDA the 13,000 complaints it received since 1997. Of those complaints, 80 of them involved deaths, seizures, heart attacks, or other serious events.
Ellis is expected to start serving his sentence at a federal prison in two months. Metabolife, which faced more than 360 Ephedra lawsuits, filed for bankruptcy in 2005. That year, Ideasphere, a New York-based maker of nutritional supplements, acquired the company’s assets for $12 million.