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TrimSpa Diet Pill Maker Facing Suit

State says company used deceptive ads

Oct 17, 2003 | Star Ledger New Jersey authorities filed a lawsuit yesterday claiming the maker of TrimSpa, a heavily advertised diet pill, deceptively lured customers to weight-loss-by-hypnosis seminars and then pushed sales of his diet pills.

It is the second time in three months state Attorney General Peter Harvey has challenged the marketing practices of a company in New Jersey's $17 billion dietary supplement industry.

The latest lawsuit, which was filed in Morris County, accuses Alex Goen, chief executive of Nutramerica, with numerous instances of deceptive advertising, including the hypnosis bait-and-switch scheme.

Nutramerica, which has its executive offices in Cedar Knolls, is known for its ubiquitous advertising of TrimSpa. The company's weight-loss claims are a trademark of AM radio and are also found in newspapers and on the Internet. The latest ads feature blonde bombshell Anna Nicole Smith promoting TrimSpa as a "high-speed, dream body diet pill."

Goen did not return calls to his office yesterday. The company's assistant general counsel also could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit.

Harvey has vowed to step up efforts to regulate the state's dietary supplement industry and its marketing practices. Many of the companies and especially the makers of diet pills are known for their far-fetched claims.

In a telephone interview, Harvey referred to the marketing of Lipo Spa, one of Nutramerica's weight loss products, as "blatantly false."

Lipo Spa "sucks the fat right out of food you eat before it can get to your hips, thighs, waist, neck or arms," according to ads cited in the lawsuit. Harvey described the company's claims as "ridiculous."

The state's lawsuit alleges Goen, who also goes by the name Alex Szynalski, promoted $59.99 seminars to help people lose weight or stop smoking without drugs. The promotional materials describe hypnosis as part of the Goen system. "The materials fail to inform consumers that a key component of the Goen system is the purchase and use of Goen supplements," the lawsuit states.

Nutramerica is affiliated with Goen's other companies, Goen Technologies and Goen Seminars Institute.

"The consumers who take the bait are than sold a weight-loss program whose alleged effectiveness depends on using Goen supplements," the lawsuit states.

At the seminars, participants are encouraged to buy Goen's products, which range from a single $44.95 bottle to a 16-pack combination of supplements for $459.99.

"The seminars were just a veiled attempt to sell Goen supplements," Harvey said.

Goen regularly refused to make full or timely payments to people who demanded refunds after attending a seminar, according to the lawsuit.

Harvey and Reni Erdos, the state's director of consumer affairs, accuse Goen and his company of violating at least four state laws prohibiting deceptive advertising.

But the suit also accuses Goen of failing to warn consumers about the dangers of ephedra, a controversial stimulant found in the company's TrimSpa diet pills, according to the lawsuit.

Controversy surrounded Ephedra earlier this year after Steve Bechler, a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles, died of heat stroke during spring training. Xenadrine RFA-1, which was one of the nation's top-selling diet pills at the time, was blamed for contributing to the 23-year-old pitcher's death.

Harvey said the state wants the court to stop Goen's marketing tactics, including his seminars and to prevent him from selling any ephedra-based dietary supplements.

"We have been investigating the unregulated supplement business for many months," he said. "The Food and Drug Administration can't enforce the business, so the states must act."

A 1994 law left supplement companies largely unregulated.

In July, the state sued Cytodyne Technologies, which made Xenadrine, another top-selling weight loss pill. Xenadrine is blamed for causing the death of Steve Bechler, a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles who died during spring training.

The company sold its marketing and licensing rights to Phoenix Laboratories in Hicksville, N.Y. The Manasquan business became Nutraquest, Inc. Yesterday, Nutraquest filed for bankruptcy in Trenton.

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