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Wal-Mart, Walgreen Settle Cases Over AbEnergizer

From Associated Press

A pair of retail giants Tuesday settled consumer protection prosecutions for allegedly selling an illegal and dangerous muscle stimulator that promised six-pack abs, prosecutors said.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville, Ark., will pay $525,000 and Walgreen Co., of Deerfield, Ill., $125,000 to settle cases brought by prosecutors in San Diego, Napa and Solano. The merchants were accused of selling AbEnergizer abdominal muscle stimulators.

The product -- which sends electric currents into a users’ body -- claimed that consumers could “push a button and get 700 sit-ups with no pain, no work and no exercise,” said Dani Jo Handell, a Solano County deputy district attorney.

“This was a medical device that needed a prescription to be bought and sold,” Handell said. “But even if you had a physician’s permission it wouldn’t make you lose weight or get six-pack abs.”

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Handell said prosecutors received numerous complaints that the product didn’t work or caused burns. She said some complained that it caused hernias or aggravated hernias that were surgically repaired.

“Most of the people who got to our offices were embarrassed that they were sucked in by this and realized that you can’t get a six pack without diet and exercise,” Handell said.

Prosecutors said retailers also helped promote deceptive advertising claims on the AbEnergizer packaging by placing the product on their shelves. Both retailers are now barred from selling similar devices without approval from the Food and Drug Administration or California’s Department of Health Services, prosecutors said.

Wal-Mart spokesman Gus Whitcomb said the retailer acknowledged no wrongdoing as part of the settlement. Walgreen’s executives could not be immediately reached for comment.

Wal-Mart, which shipped more than 17,000 AbEnergizers in California, must pay $240,000 in penalties, $59,000 for costs, and $226,000 in restitution for victims, prosecutors said. Walgreen, which sold fewer units, must pay $80,000 in victim restitution and $45,000 in costs.

Wal-Mart shares fell 22 cents Tuesday to $50.77; Walgreen lost 51 cents to $44.60, both on the New York Stock Exchange.


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