In an extremely rare development in the supplement world, the federal government on Wednesday charged six people and two Florida corporations in a massive, multi-million dollar scheme to distribute illegal dietary supplements.
“Fraud by supplement manufacturers and distributors is extremely dangerous for consumers, who rightly assume that a dietary supplement product sold in stores or online will not contain unapproved drugs,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “These products are not safe and that is why we will continue to aggressively pursue and prosecute those who import, manufacture, and distribute dangerous and illegal ingredients for fraudulent purposes.”
In many ways, this move doesn’t come as a surprise. In December 2015, Men’s Journal sent me to Florida to write a story about a Blackstone Labs. Earlier that year, the company was sent a letter from the FDA. It stated that FDA officials found that a product called “Angel Dust,” being sold by Blackstone Labs, contained Dimethylbutylamine (DMBA), a government-controlled stimulant known to raise blood pressure. It was being marketed as a pre-workout dietary supplement, designed to “increase mental focus, muscle performance, endurance, and blood flow,” according to labeling on the product.
The letter read: “Failure to immediately cease distribution of your product and any other products you market that contain DMBA could result in enforcement action by FDA without further notice.”
I did some research on other Blackstone products and found that one contained SARMs, drugs that were being tested to treat osteoporosis but had also been shown to increase muscle mass and strength in healthy individuals. Earlier that year, the FDA had sent a warning letter to another supplements company telling them to stop selling SARMs, because they were an unapproved drug going through clinical trials and thus illegal to sell.
I reached out to the owners of Blackstone Labs, Aaron Singerman and PJ Braun, and asked them if I could fly to Florida and interview them. Much to my surprise, they agreed to the interview.
For three hours, I toured the Blackstone facilities with the two hulking men (both former bodybuilders), and peppered them with questions.
Q: How much money does Blackstone make?
A: “$20 million per year.”
Q: Why sell SARMs?
A: “If you look at the actual literature, it’s all positive,” Singerman said. “I’ve used it plenty of times, and I like putting out products that I actually use.”
Q: What about potential side affects?
A: “I am a libertarian,” Singerman told me. “I believe that it’s the person’s decision. As long as they’re an adult.”
I also learned that day that Blackstone had partnered with Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals, a dietary supplement company owned by Jared Wheat. Wheat was known for selling banned supplements that contained banned substances, such as ephedra. In early 2006 government officials raided his offices and seized 200 cases of supplements valued at $3 million, and in 2008 Wheat pleaded guilty to selling adulterated supplements and committing mail and wire fraud. He was sentenced to 50 months in prison, but he continued to operate Hi-Tech from his cell. Now he was working with Singerman and Braun.
Men’s Journal published my story in March 2017 (which came out in early February), and a few weeks later, government officials raided Blackstone Labs, reportedly seizing computers and product.
But Blackstone, seemingly, continued to thrive, releasing new supplements. That is until yesterday, when Braun and Singerman, along with six other men, were charged in a 14-count indictment, alleging that “the defendants sold hundreds of thousands of illegal products, including anabolic steroids, nationwide and internationally, fraudulently representing that those products and pills were high-quality, legal dietary supplements. According to the indictment, the defendants created an illicit manufacturing company and routed sales of illegal products through trusted distributors, knowing that the products were unsafe or could not legally be sold to consumers.”
The indictment also charged Braun and Singerman with three counts of money laundering, for which they could receive 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for each count.
“Consumers who use dietary supplements expect those products to be safe. When they contain drugs that are not FDA-approved, the health of the public is put at risk,” said Catherine A. Hermsen, Acting Director, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations. “We will continue to pursue and bring to justice those who place consumers’ health in jeopardy.”