Teen diet pill contained illegal substance, Fort Myers company founder to accept plea deal

FORT MYERS, Fla. The founder of a dietary supplement company under federal investigation for false labeling is expected, following a WINK News inquiry, to accept a plea deal that potentially includes jail time.

Derek Vest, founder of Fort Myers-based Gentech Pharmaceutical, faces up to three years in prison, a $250,000 fine and forfeiture of $2.5 million in assets, according to federal court documents.

Vest is expected to accept the plea during a March 29 hearing. If confirmed by a judge, sentencing could take place within the following 90 days, said David Goldberg, Vest’s attorney.

Vest is accused of distributing dietary supplements “AddTabz”, “PhenTabz” and “PhenTabz-Teen” containing DMAA, a banned amphetamine derivative, but not listing the ingredient on product labels.

Lexium International, a Fort Myers-based company that makes “designer nutritional supplements,” continues to sell “AddTabz” and “PhenTabz.”

DMAA is touted as a natural stimulant, but especially when combined with other ingredients such as caffeine, can elevate blood pressure and result in cardiovascular problems ranging from shortness of breath to a heart attack, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In 2012, the FDA issued warning letters to companies using DMAA in their products to remove them from the market or recreate their products without it.

The supplements made by Vest’s companies were distributed between April 2013 and November 2014, according to federal court documents.

Lexium and CellMark Biopharma, another Fort Myers-based dietary supplement company, were the subject of several federal court filings in November demanding the release of certain information about their products and marketing to the Federal Trade Commission.

The companies, both founded by Vest, refused to submit certain portions of documents, citing Vest’s Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. But Mark Bonner, a former federal prosecutor, said Fifth Amendment rights apply to people, not companies.

CellMark Biopharma CEO Craig Pisaris-Henderson, in a previous interview, emphasized that both companies are separate entities and that CellMark has been fully cooperative with federal investigators.

CellMark and Lexium are both headquartered in the same Hayley Lane building and their offices are next to each other.

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

Reporter:Lauren Sweeney