A federal judge will decide whether a chiropractor who is charged with 10 counts of making false marketing claims related to COVID-19 will be the first person convicted under a new federal law.
According to the FTC complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, the company, which has several locations in St. Louis County, advertised its vitamin D and zinc products on social media and the internet as drugs that could treat or prevent COVID-19.
"The defendants even claim that their products are more effective than the available COVID-19 vaccines," the complaint states.
In announcing the charges, acting FTC Chair Rebecca Kelly Slaughter said that "the defendants' claims that their products can stand in for approved COVID-19 vaccines are particularly troubling: we need to be doing everything we can to stop bogus health claims that endanger consumers."
Nepute formed the company in January 2020, according to court documents.
The FTC warned Nepute's company in May 2020 about making unsubstantiated claims with other products. The letter advised Nepute to immediately stop making claims that were not supported by scientific evidence.
However, Nepute continued marketing vitamins and mineral products — specifically, Wellness Warrior vitamin D and zinc — as proven immunity boosters that effectively treat or prevent COVID-19 and protect against the disease better than current vaccines, the FTC says.
According to the complaint, the FTC is seeking to fine Nepute and Quickwork up to $43,792 for each violation of the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act.
In addition, the FTC seeks to bar the company from making health claims unless they are true and can be substantiated by scientific evidence.
Denial of Charges
Nepute did not respond to Medscape’s request for comment.
Through his attorney, he told the local NBC TV news affiliate, "I feel that I have not done anything wrong. I encourage everyone to live a healthy lifestyle during this unprecedented time. My attorneys are reviewing the complaint and I have no further comments at this time."
The FTC cited in its complaint the wide reach of the videos of lengthy monologues by Nepute that were posted on social media and many websites, all of which were available to the public.
The complaint noted that a Facebook page featured an "offers" section that promised free bottles of vitamin D and zinc.
"Defendants often posted videos multiple times a day, and some of the posts played the same video two to six consecutive times. Collectively, Defendants' marketing videos have been viewed millions of times," the complaint says.
The complaint says that in February 2021, Facebook removed Nepute's public Facebook page.
In response, on February 19, 2021, Nepute created a new publicly available Facebook page on which consumers can buy the company's products, the complaint says.