$2 million mistake: Court rules in favor of FTC in diet tea and patch case

A federal district court has ordered the marketers of an herbal tea and a diet patch to pay nearly $2 million to the Federal Trade Commission for making deceptive claims that both products would allow users to lose weight quickly without diet or exercise.

For nearly two years before the FTC complaint was filed, Bronson Partners, LLC and its officer, Martin Howard, marketed Chinese Diet Tea, telling consumers they could lose as much as six pounds a week by drinking one cup of the green tea after each meal to "neutralize the absorption of fattening foods."

Advertising in national magazines such as USA Weekend and Clipper Magazine, the marketers charged $24.95 plus shipping and handling for a month's supply.

Also during this time, the marketers sold the Bio-Slim Patch, a diet patch that contained extracts from the fucus, garcinia, and guarana plants. Instructing consumers to wear the patches 24 hours a day for at least three months, the marketers claimed that "repulsive, excess ugly fatty tissue will disappear at a spectacular rate due to the combination and synergy of these three natural ingredients."

The marketers advertised the patch in national magazines and in a company catalog, and consumers paid $24.95 plus shipping and handling for a month's supply.

In addition to ordering the nearly $2 million payment, citing "obvious and widespread" violations of the FTC Act, Judge Stefan R. Underhill of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut granted the FTC's request to prohibit the defendants from deceptively selling or advertising any weight-loss products. "Future violations of a similar nature would surely result in financial harm to consumers, and possible physical harm if consumers engage in risky weight-loss techniques in reliance on (the) defendants' misleading representations," the judge wrote in his December 2009 ruling and order.

He also ordered the defendants to help the FTC identify consumer victims who lost money on the products, so that restitution can be made.

The FTC filed its complaint against Bronson Partners, LLC and Martin Howard as part of the "Big Fat Lie" law enforcement sweep in November 2004. The sweep targeted marketers of bogus weight-loss products, such as pills, powders, gels, green teas, and diet patches. In July 2008, the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut granted the FTC's request for summary judgment against Howard and Bronson Partners, LLC — also doing business as New England Diet Center and Bronson Day Spa.

Copies of the November 2004 complaint and the December 2009 ruling and order are available on the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.

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