The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is taking unprecedented action against what it says is deceptive marketing of purported COVID-19 treatments.
The FTC has charged St. Louis-based chiropractor Eric Nepute, DC, and his company Quickwork with violating the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act by marketing products containing vitamin D and zinc as proven to treat or prevent COVID-19, the agency said in an announcement.
The case is the first to be brought by the FTC under the new law enacted in January as a result of the pandemic.
According to the agency, Nepute and his company marketed products under the brand name “Wellness Warrior” that they claimed were as effective — or more effective — than COVID-19 vaccines.
In April of last year, Quickwork began selling Wellness Warrior products — previously sold to Nepute’s chiropractic patients — to all consumers online via the website wellnesswarrior.club, the FTC complaint stated. And as early as June 2020, Nepute began marketing the products as those to treat or prevent COVID-19 through videos posted to Facebook.
In May of last year, the FTC sent the chiropractor a warning letter that advised him to review claims for all his products and cease any claims not supported by scientific evidence, the complaint stated.
Nepute confirmed to the FTC that he had received the letter, according to the complaint. But he continued to market vitamin and mineral products as proven immunity boosters that would treat or prevent COVID-19, and to promote certain vitamin D and zinc products as equal or better protection than vaccines.
Between June 2020 and February 2021, Nepute and Quickwork posted hundreds of videos containing such claims to Facebook, and the videos were viewed, cumulatively, millions of times, the complaint further alleged.
The agency is asking a federal court — in a complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Justice on the FTC’s behalf — to exercise a provision of the new law to impose monetary penalties on the defendants and to grant a preliminary injunction against them. The law allows the agency to seek civil monetary penalties for first-time violations, the agency noted in its announcement, a remedy not normally available under the Federal Trade Commission Act.
“Consumers are suffering, have suffered, and likely will continue to suffer substantial injury as a result of defendants’ violations of the FTC Act and the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act,” the Department of Justice wrote in the complaint. “In addition, defendants have been unjustly enriched as a result of their unlawful acts or practices. Absent injunctive relief by this court, defendants are likely to continue to injure consumers and harm the public interest.”
Congress passed the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act last year. The law makes it illegal to engage in deceptive marketing related to the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, or cure of COVID-19, or any government benefit related to COVID-19, according to the FTC.
Nepute did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Counsel for the defendants were not yet entered in the case, according to court documents.