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Sellers of ‘Super’ Diet Pill to Settle False Advertising Suit for $500,000

Times Staff Writers

A group of Canoga Park mail-order companies marketing a Japanese “super pill,” billed as being able to flush calories from the body without dieting, agreed Thursday to pay $500,000 as part of an out-of-court settlement in a civil lawsuit that accused the firm of false and misleading advertising.

The settlement stemmed from a complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in November by the district attorney’s consumer protection division.

The suit alleged that four companies and four individuals sold the product, Amitol/Am, through the mail by making exaggerated claims in 806 advertisements placed in 268 newspapers and periodicals nationwide last year.

Charles Kelson, the unit’s supervising investigator, said the ads claimed that Amitol/AM would produce dramatic weight loss no matter how much food was eaten by the person using the product.

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The $500,000, which includes civil penalties, court costs and rebates to consumers, is the largest monetary judgment obtained by the unit in its 15-year history, Kelson said.

The defendants also agreed to an injunction banning any “exaggerated and misleading claims” for the product, or claims that are not representative of what consumers “will generally achieve by using the product.”

The agreement contains no admission of wrongdoing.

Named as defendants in the suit were Continental Health Co., doing business as Dyna Labs, Amatol Industries, Dresner Communications and Pacific Order Processing Co., all situated at 8025 Deering Ave. Also named as defendants were Frances Stephanie Brennan of Topanga, Continental’s chief executive officer, and three Dresner officials.

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The ads included before and after pictures of a woman who claimed to have lost 51 pounds in six weeks, down to a weight of 118, Kelson said. Investigators identified Brennan as the woman in the ads, he said.

The complaint alleged that the product was pushed with claims such as “prevents calories from forming body fat” and “some people have reported as much as three pounds (lost) the first 24 hours.”

The ads also falsely stated that the product had been endorsed by the Japanese Medical Assn., Kelson said.

Medical experts who analyzed the pills said they are made of Glucomannan, a harmless fibrous substance obtained from the root of konjac, a plant that grows in northern Japan, Kelson said. Dr. Ernst J. Drenick of the UCLA School of Medicine, an expert in the treatment of obesity, said Glucomannan, which is available in most health stores, is “worthless in the control of obesity.”

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Postal Service Tip

Kelson said the case was referred to the consumer protection unit in July by U.S. Postal Service investigator Ralph Cook. Investigators from the unit raided the Deering Avenue address in October and confiscated samples of the product and hundreds of packages containing pills that had been returned by dieters who wanted their money back.

Investigators found that the company had mailed about 40,000 bottles each month from January to October of 1985. With charges of $19.95 for a 30-day supply and $35.95 for a 60-day supply, Kelson said, the business was grossing more than $800,000 a month.

Kelson said the company bought the product from a supplier, not named in the lawsuit, at a price of $1.68 for a 30-day supply.

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