A civil complaint against Missouri chiropractor and his company is giving the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission a chance to seek its first enforcement of the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act.
The act, which was passed by Congress in December, prohibits deceptive acts or practices associated with the treatment, cure, prevention, mitigation or diagnosis of COVID-19, the DOJ said in a news release.
The complaint alleges Eric Anthony Nepute and Quickwork LLC, operating as Wellness Warrior, violated the act when they advertised their vitamin D and zinc nutritional supplements as preventative measures or treatments for COVID-19 without competent or scientific research to support the claim.
Nepute promoted his bogus health claims in video monologues on social media that have been viewed millions of times, the FTC said. Other videos by Nepute claim masks can be harmful and coronavirus death statistics have been inflated.
When Facebook shut down his page in February, Nepute created a new page and website and reposted his videos, according to the complaint.
"The Justice Department is committed to preventing the unlawful marketing of unproven COVID-19 treatments," Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton. "Deceptive marketing of unproven products discourages consumers from following health and safety guidelines provided by public health officials. The unlawful spreading of COVID-19 misinformation to sell a product will not be tolerated."
The DOJ said the defendants claimed their supplements were equal to or more protective than the Food and Drug Administration-authorized vaccines — which the FTC’s Acting Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter called "particularly troubling."
A selection of over the counter vitamin supplements is pictured on July 12, 2005 in Edinburgh, United Kingdom. (Photo Illustration by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
"With this case, the Commission has quickly put to use its new authority to stop false marketing claims related to the pandemic," Slaughter said.
Violation of the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act is punishable by civil penalties, injunctive relief and other remedies made available under the FTC Act.
Wellness Warrier is also accused of violating the FTC Act, which prohibits false advertising as well as unfair and deceptive conduct.
This story was reported from Atlanta. The Associated Press contributed.