FTC charges St. Louis chiropractor with making fake COVID claims
The FTC said Eric Nepute and his company had unfounded claims that Wellness Warrior products containing vitamin D and zinc were scientifically proven to treat or prevent COVID-19
ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO. – A St. Louis County chiropractor becomes the first person in the United States to be indicted under a new law to protect Americans from fraudulent claims about COVID-19.
Eric Nepute and Quickwork LLC are facing ten counts in federal court for violating the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act and Federal Trade Commission Act. In his case, the FTC alleged that Nepute and his company, which operate multiple locations of the Nepute Wellness Center in St. Louis County, have for no reason claimed that its vitamin D and zinc products are scientifically proven to treat or prevent COVID-19 .
“I feel like I didn’t do anything wrong,” Nepute said in a statement to 5 On Your Side by his lawyers. “I encourage everyone to lead healthy lifestyles at this unprecedented time.” My lawyers are looking into the complaint and I have no further comments at this time. “
This is the first case the FTC has brought under the new law, which was passed by Congress in 2020.
“In this case, the commission has quickly used its new authority to stop false marketing claims related to the pandemic,” said Acting Chair Rebecca Kelly Slaughter.
5 On Your Side first spoke to Nepute last April when a video he posted on Facebook was viewed a million times. In the video, he advises viewers to drink tonic water and take zinc as a “preventative” measure.
“Take about 3 to 4 ounces a day of Schweppes Tonic Water and take at least 50 to 100 milligrams of zinc. I’ll say that again, 50 to 100 milligrams of zinc. Do it every day as a preventative,” Nepute said in the video.
The chiropractor told viewers this was not medical advice, his “disclaimer,” a point he repeated when speaking to 5 On Your Side on a phone call last year.
“I’ve never claimed any of these nutrients cure or prevent the coronavirus,” said Nepute.
According to the Commission’s complaint, Nepute and his company marketed vitamin D and zinc products under the brand name “Wellness Warrior” and claimed they were as effective – or more – than currently available vaccines.
The FTC said, under the false claims made by Nepute and Quickwork that “COVID-19 patients who receive enough vitamin D are 52% less likely to die,” those who receive enough vitamin D are 77% less likely to die from Illness and Wellbeing Warrior’s Vitamin D product is more effective than approved vaccines in preventing COVID-19.
“The allegations made by the defendants that their products may represent approved COVID-19 vaccines are particularly worrying: we must do everything we can to stop false health claims that put consumers at risk,” Slaughter said.
The FTC sent a letter to Nepute in May 2020 warning him of the claims of efficacy that were not supported by scientific data.
“Despite the warning letter, Nepute continued to market vitamins and mineral products – particularly Vitamin D and Zinc from Wellness Warrior – as proven immunity boosters that effectively treat or prevent COVID-19,” the FTC said in a press release Thursday.
According to the commission’s complaint, the FTC intends to fine up to $ 43,792 for any violation of the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act.
In addition to the fine against Nepute and his company, the FTC wants to forbid them in future to make similar unsubstantiated health claims “unless they are true and can be substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence”. The commission also wants to ban Nepute and Quickwork from falsely claiming to have scientific evidence that vitamin D and zinc can help prevent or treat COVID-19.
“People can say anything. However, that doesn’t mean they do and it may take them some time to be held accountable, ”said Rebecca Phoenix, an investigator with the Better Business Bureau. She compares fake COVID-19 treatments to modern snake oil, with her sellers often directly contradicting CDC guidelines.
“You really have to look for scientific research, especially when you are thinking about a health product.”
You can read the FTC’s full complaint against Nepute and Quickwork online here.