A former employee of sports supplement brand Blackstone Labs LLC was found guilty this week of committing conspiracy and faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, federal prosecutors announced.
Blackstone Labs’ former director of sales, James Boccuzzi, was convicted Dec. 9 of one count of conspiracy to defraud FDA and one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release.
The 37-year-old Boccuzzi, who was remanded to the custody of U.S. Marshals following trial, is the eleventh defendant convicted in connection with Blackstone Labs, DOJ said.
He is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 17 before U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas of the Southern District of Florida.
The defendants were charged with selling prohormones, selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs) and other illegal substances in products marketed as dietary supplements.
Boccuzzi was the only defendant who took his case to trial. Blackstone Labs’ co-founders Phillip “PJ” Braun and Aaron Singerman recently pleaded guilty to certain criminal charges in a 14-count indictment and have agreed to forfeit millions of dollars to the U.S. government.
Prosecutors presented evidence at Boccuzzi’s trial in Fort Lauderdale that steroid products sold by Blackstone Labs and affiliated companies became illegal controlled substances in December 2014 under a new law that amended the Controlled Substances Act, according to DOJ’s news release announcing the jury verdict. Despite their knowledge of the Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act and its impact on the legality of Blackstone Labs’ steroid products, Boccuzzi and his co-conspirators continued selling the products for more than 18 months, DOJ said.
In addition, prosecutors produced evidence that Boccuzzi and his co-conspirators swiftly sold products containing stimulants after receiving an FDA warning letter that the products were unlawful to sell in dietary supplements, according to DOJ. The evidence further showed the conspirators masked sales of other products containing research chemicals despite their knowledge that the products could not be lawfully sold as supplements, DOJ added.
“It is illegal to sell drugs and controlled substances as dietary supplements,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton of DOJ’s Civil Division said in the news release. “The department will work with its law enforcement partners to prosecute individuals and companies that market potentially dangerous products, such as designer steroids, in violation of the Controlled Substances Act and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.”
Reaction from defense attorney
Stephen Salter, an attorney who defended Boccuzzi at trial, said he would not “quibble” with the jury’s verdict. However, he said the jury “clearly did not hear all of the relevant facts—facts readily available to the government and within their knowledge and control.”
He said the prosecution troubled him, including the government bringing a case against a salesperson focused on wholesale accounts. “No other ‘salesman’ was prosecuted,” Salter said, adding the prosecution of his client “sends a chilling message to those involved in merely selling any product.”
Salter also described as “reprehensible” prosecutors’ “power to ‘forgive and forget’ this very same conduct in ‘purchasing’” the co-conspirators’ testimony. The government, he said, wielded a powerful bargaining chip against the co-conspirators with the threat, or “hammer,” of a potential 15-year prison sentence, based on one of the criminal counts.
Yet he suggested several co-conspirators who pleaded guilty before trial were not called to the stand by the prosecution as witnesses, which Salter said deprived his client the opportunity to show "other crucial facts in this case."
Count 4 of the indictment against seven defendants—including Braun, Boccuzzi and Singerman, among others—alleged conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. It carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, Salter said, unless the government could prove “serious bodily injury,” which carries an additional 5 years of prison.
The jury found Boccuzzi guilty of counts 1 (conspiracy to defraud FDA) and 4 of the indictment. However, the jurors did not find that “methyl-1-etiocholenolol was a but-for cause of serious bodily injury” to a Blackstone Labs customer described in the jury’s verdict as “C.H.”
On Nov. 17, Braun and Singerman each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and to selling unapproved new drugs. Two days later, Blackstone Labs pleaded guilty to the same charges as Braun and Singerman, as well as to conspiracy to defraud FDA and to commit mail and wire fraud, DOJ said.
Braun and Singerman could each face up to 13 years in prison, their plea agreements disclose, although Dimitrouleas will ultimately decide the sentences at a later date following recommendations from prosecutors and the defense.
Others who pleaded guilty to related charges include five individual defendants and two corporate entities involved in the sale of Blackstone Labs’ products, according to DOJ.
Four of the defendants are scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 4: Robert DiMaggio, a co-founder of Blackstone Labs; David Winsauer, a former employee of Blackstone Labs; Ventech Labs, which manufactured products for Blackstone Labs; and Anthony “Joey” Ventrella, who controlled Ventech Labs.
Salter said Winsauer testified at Boccuzzi’s trial, as well as Leonard Shemtob. Shemtob previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to sell controlled substances, and he was among two individuals who stated they purchased from Blackstone Labs designer steroids they sold.
Blackstone Labs remains in business and describes itself on its website as “the hardcore holy grail of supplements.” Arthur Leach, an attorney representing the company, said his client “has been operating in compliance with the letter of the law” since being under new ownership in April 2017.