Justice Department and FTC Announce Action to Stop Deceptive Marketing of Purported COVID-19 Treatments
First Enforcement Action Under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act
The Department of Justice, together with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), today announced a civil complaint against defendants Eric Anthony Nepute and Quickwork LLC, doing business as Wellness Warrior, in the first enforcement action alleging violations of the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act.
According to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, the defendants advertised that their vitamin D and zinc nutritional supplements could prevent or treat COVID-19 without competent or reliable scientific evidence to support their claims. Further, the defendants allegedly advertised without scientific support that their supplements were equally or more effective therapies for COVID-19 than the currently available vaccines. The complaint seeks civil penalties and injunctive relief to stop the defendants from continuing to make deceptive advertising claims.
The COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, passed by Congress in December 2020, prohibits deceptive acts or practices associated with the treatment, cure, prevention, mitigation or diagnosis of COVID-19. Persons who violate the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act may be subject to civil penalties, injunctive relief and other remedies available under the FTC Act. The complaint also alleges violations of the FTC Act, which prohibit unfair and deceptive conduct, and false advertising, respectively.
“The Justice Department is committed to preventing the unlawful marketing of unproven COVID-19 treatments,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “Deceptive marketing of unproven products discourages consumers from following health and safety guidelines provided by public health officials. The unlawful spreading of COVID-19 misinformation to sell a product will not be tolerated.”
“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,” said Acting Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter of the FTC. “With this case, the Commission has quickly put to use its new authority to stop false marketing claims related to the pandemic.”
This matter is being handled by Trial Attorneys Benjamin Cornfeld and Brandon Robers of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Suzanne Moore from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri. Kristin M. Williams, Mary L. Johnson and Brady C. Williams represent the FTC.
For more information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts, visit its website at https://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. For more information about the FTC, visit its website at https://www.FTC.gov.