Were weight loss pills, other supplements falsely marketed?

FORT MYERS, Fla. The Federal Trade Commission is investigating two Fort Myers-based dietary supplement companies accused of deceptive advertising.

Lexium International and CellMark Biopharma were the subject of a series federal court filings in November demanding that certain information about products and marketing be released to the FTC. Derek Vest, the founder of both companies, is the target of a federal grand jury investigation into misbranded drugs and other crimes.

The U.S. attorney’s office sent Vest a letter in March notifying him about the investigation.

“When you get a letter like this, it means they are fixing to indict you,” said Mark Bonner, a former federal prosecutor and Ave Maria law professor.

The companies are refusing to hand over certain portions of documents, citing Vest’s Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

The FTC contends Fifth Amendment rights that apply to a criminal defendant may not apply to a corporation and is asking for a federal magistrate ruling that would force the companies to release the information, Bonner said.

Vest did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Business filings show he is no longer listed as the principal agent for either company.

CellMark Biopharma CEO Craig Pisaris-Henderson emphasized that both companies are separate entities and said CellMark has been fully cooperative with the FTC’s demands.

CellMark has removed the words “scientifically formulated” from its product packaging, Pisaris-Henderson said.

“We literally make a change to our website and marketing material on a weekly basis,” Pisaris-Henderson wrote in an email. “The one thing I can tell you is that while our formulas are made for specific issues and contain a combination of, and levels of ingredients unlike any other product currently on the market, we only state our products are ‘Medical Nutrition’ that advance cellular health.”

So far no criminal charges have been filed against Vest.

The U.S. attorney’s office and the FTC declined comment.

Reporter:Lauren Sweeney