An Oak Park man has filed a class action lawsuit against a maker of a nutritional supplement, claiming the company, which has been accused of bribing the former governor of Virgina, falsely marketed the supplement as a “wonder drug” for a variety of illnesses and conditions.
Howard T. Baldwin filed the suit late last month in Chicago's federal court against Glen Allen, Va.-based “specialty pharmaceutical” manufacturer Star Scientific Inc.
The suit also names Star Scientific's corporate subsidiary, Gloucester, Mass.-based maker of dietary supplements Rock Creek Pharmaceuticals Inc., and GNC Holdings Inc., the corporate parent of health and wellness product retailer GNC, as defendants.
Baldwin is represented by attorneys Elizabeth A. Fegan and Daniel J. Kurowski of Hagens, Berman, Sobol, Shapiro LLP in Oak Park, as well as Steve W. Berman of the firm’s Seattle office.
The defendants are represented by Molly K. McGinley, John William Rotunno and Paul J. Walsen of K&L Gates LLP in Chicago. Court records show the defendants were recently granted an extension and now have until March 24 to answer, move or otherwise plead.
The suit centers on a product marketed under the name Anatabloc, a nutritional supplement manufactured by Star Scientific and Rock Creek.
According to the complaint, the companies claim Anatabloc is derived from compounds found in tobacco, tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant.
Baldwin, however, alleges the problem with the product arises from the way Anatabloc was marketed and portrayed by the defendants. They began selling the product online in 2011.
He claims the two companies marketed the product as a “wonder drug” that could be used to treat a variety of conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, concussions and multiple sclerosis, among others.
Baldwin contends in his complaint the companies began heavily marketing the product out of a sense of desperation, needing “to win over skeptical investors and consumers” after Star Scientific failed to gain traction for other products the company had introduced since it shifted about a decade ago from manufacturing cigarettes and other tobacco products to “so-called ‘nutraceutical’ dietary supplements and cosmetic products.”
Despite a lack of approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the product and a lack of evidence “it had yet to achieve any clinical results showing Anatabloc was effective," Baldwin asserts Star Scientific and Rock Creek used medicinal claims to market Anatabloc.
In his complaint, Baldwin alleges the manufacturers falsely bolstered the scientific credibility of its product by claiming it was being researched by Johns Hopkins University, when in fact, the company had merely hired two scientists affiliated with Johns Hopkins as paid consultants.
To further lend credibility to its product, Star Scientific is also alleged to have enlisted the support of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and his wife, Maureen.
According to the complaint, the former governor and first lady allowed Star Scientific to use the governor’s mansion to launch their product and use the couple's backing to generate positive press.
The McDonnells were indicted last month for allegedly accepting tens of thousands of dollars in gifts from the company's chief executive officer. They have pleaded not guilty to the corruption charges and plan to seek dismissal of the indictment by March 25, according to media reports published today.
After initially offering the product for sale online, Star Scientific began selling Anatabloc in GNC stores in early 2012. The complaint notes that “sales of Anatabloc showed impressive growth in-store” and by May 2013, the product was offered in “all of GNC’s corporate stores,” which number more than 2,900 throughout the U.S. and in Puerto Rico.
GNC further promoted Anatabloc in advertisements and through various product recognitions in 2012 and 2013.
As a result of such endorsements and misleading marketing practices, Baldwin states in his complaint he purchased Anatabloc at a cost of $99 per bottle. He later “cancelled his subscription because Anatabloc did not work.”
In his complaint, which seeks class action status and alleges damages could exceed $5 million, Baldwin has asked to serve as class representative for everyone who purchased Anatabloc since Aug. 1, 2011, online or at any GNC store.
The suit includes counts for violating state consumer protection laws, breach of express and implied warranties and unjust enrichment.