A federal judge last week sentenced a former salesman for Blackstone Labs LLC, a sports supplements brand, to 51 months in prison for conspiring to defraud FDA and conspiring to distribute anabolic steroids, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
Thirty-eight-year-old James Boccuzzi, who led sales for Blackstone Labs (Blackstone), was the final defendant to be sentenced in the case.
He also was the only defendant linked to Blackstone whose case was heard before a jury. After he was convicted by a jury in December, prosecutors said he faced a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.
More than half a dozen other individuals and companies charged with federal crimes—including Blackstone and its two co-founders—reached plea agreements with the government.
Evidence at trial showed Boccuzzi and his co-conspirators continued to sell illegal controlled substances, despite knowledge of the Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act and its impact on the legality of Blackstone’s steroid products, according to a March 11 news release from DOJ. DASCA empowered DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) to crack down on dangerous substances that resemble anabolic steroids on DEA’s current list of controlled substances and that have been marketed as dietary supplements.
DOJ said the evidence at trial also showed:
- Boccuzzi and his co-conspirators quickly sold other Blackstone products containing stimulants after FDA notified them in a warning letter that the products were unlawful to sell as dietary supplements.
- The conspirators hid sales of other products containing research chemicals despite knowing the products could not legally be sold as dietary supplements.
Boccuzzi also created a fake “Certificate of Free Sale,” depicting himself as an FDA employee, in order to ship Blackstone’s products abroad, according to DOJ.
In a sentencing memo, Boccuzzi’s lawyers suggested he should receive credit for time served followed by a period of supervised release, but at the most, a sentence of no more than 18 months in prison. Boccuzzi has expressed remorse for his conduct and accepted responsibility for it, they said.
The sentencing memo disagreed with DOJ’s characterization of the case as one involving “fraud” and instead described it as “one of distribution of a ‘controlled substance.’"
“James Boccuzzi stands convicted of a felony and now has served 90 days in custody—he clearly knows now what path he must (and wants) to follow,” his lawyers concluded.
Boccuzzi’s lawyers further suggested there should not be unjustified disparities in the sentences imposed against defendants in the case who had been found guilty of similar conduct. For instance, they described David Winsauer as “skilled head of the ‘mass marketing’ that drove the sales to ‘retailers’ like Justin Smith and Leonard Shemtob.”
Winsauer was sentenced to five years of probation, and Smith and Shemtob also avoided prison time and were both sentenced to several years of supervised release.
On the other hand, Boccuzzi’s attorneys suggested Smith and Shemtob testified for the government, which may have affected their criminal sentences.
Industry lawyer Rick Collins has defended against many cases involving anabolic steroids, misbranded drugs and tainted supplements. While he did not address the facts specific to the defendants tied to Blackstone, Collins explained the way cooperation generally influences federal sentencing.
“A sentencing guidelines chart advises federal judges as to how much prison time should apply for a particular offense level in a criminal case. Cooperating with the government is one way that a criminal defendant can reduce their sentencing exposure,” he said in an email. “When a defendant chooses this route and provides ‘substantial assistance’ to the government in the investigation or prosecution of others, the government moves for a ‘downward departure’ at sentencing.”
“That departure motion permits the judge to sentence the defendant to much less than the applicable prison range for their offense level in the sentencing guidelines,” Collins added. “Of course, cooperation is just one of many factors that impact sentencing, and it certainly isn’t the only explanation if one person in a conspiracy gets a much lighter sentence than another.”
Prosecutors recommended Boccuzzi receive a sentence within the advisory guidelines range of 51 to 63 months in prison.
Their sentencing memo described Boccuzzi “as an instrumental part of the criminal conspiracies” committed by Blackstone, “where the co-conspirators earned millions through fraud and sales of illegal products while callously disregarding health risks to tens of thousands of consumers.” Boccuzzi earned more than $750,000 in three years working at Blackstone, they added.
At the sentencing hearing, Stephen Salter, who represented Boccuzzi, pushed back against the government’s claim that its job is to shield the public from harm. In an email to Natural Products Insider, he said he mentioned the Sackler family—owners of Perdue Pharma LLP previously entangled in myriad criminal and civil investigations into fueling the opioid epidemic—had not been charged with even a single misdemeanor.
Last month, several U.S. senators called on DOJ to investigate whether members of the Sackler family engaged in criminal conduct in connection with Purdue Pharma’s admitted criminal wrongdoing in 2020 in fueling the opioid epidemic.
Boccuzzi’s sentence was nearly as long as the sentences that Judge William Dimitrouleas of the Southern District of Florida handed down against Blackstone co-founders Phillip “PJ” Braun and Aaron Singerman. Both men were sentenced to 54 months in prison and ordered to forfeit a combined $5.9 million.
In total, eight individuals and three companies were convicted of felonies and ordered to forfeit nearly $8 million (combined) in the prosecutions related to Blackstone’s activities, according to DOJ’s news release.
“Dietary supplement distributors and manufacturers cannot ignore the law,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton, head of DOJ’s Civil Division, said in the news release. “The Department of Justice will work with law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute individuals and companies who disregard public safety to make a profit.”