Couple sentenced in scheme to counterfeit 5-Hour Energy shots

A federal judge sentenced a husband and wife to prison Tuesday for their parts in a conspiracy to sell millions of counterfeit 5-Hour Energy shots, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Joseph Shayota, 64, and Adriana Shayota, 45, were sentenced to 86 months and 26 months by U.S. District Court Judge Lucy H. Koh in San Jose. The San Diego-area residents were convicted by a federal jury in November.

Prosecutors alleged the couple contracted with the drink’s distributor to sell the product in Mexico, but then altered its Spanish-language packaging and labeling to English and distributed it in the U.S. at well below the company’s normal retail price.

The relabeling scheme involved 350,000 bottles sold from 2009 to 2011, but then grew into a larger effort when the Shayotas worked with nine other defendants in Michigan and Southern California to manufacture and sell several million counterfeit energy shots. The sham shots, mislabeled as 5-Hour Energy, were manufactured at an unsanitary facility by untrained workers mixing unregulated ingredients in vats, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

All told, the scheme placed almost 4 million counterfeit shots onto the market.

It is unknown whether any consumers were harmed by drinking the fake mix. The Food and Drug Administration has investigated at least eight deaths and a dozen life-threatening reactions involving energy shots before and during the time of the counterfeiting.

Living Essentials, the company that contracted with the Shayotas to sell the energy drink in Mexico, won a $20-million civil judgment against all the defendants in 2016.

“Acting out of pure greed, these defendants gambled with the health and safety of millions of users of this well-known consumer product," said U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch.

With this decision, all eight convicted defendants have been sentenced. The government referred two defendants to pre-trial diversion, and one defendant, Juan Romero, fled prosecution and remains a fugitive.

jack.flemming@latimes.com

@jflem94

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