In a letter sent Friday to his investors, William Ackman of Pershing Square Capital Management, said the company is unaware “of any statements that we have made that are untrue, nor are we aware of any unlawful conduct on our part or by any consultants that we have hired."

Josh Long, Associate editorial director, Natural Products Insider

March 13, 2015

3 Min Read
Report: Individuals Tied to Ackman Subject of Federal Investigation into Potential Manipulation of Herbalife Stock

For more than two years, Herbalife Ltd. has been defending itself against allegations by a hedge-fund billionaire that the multilevel marketer (MLM) of nutritional products is a pyramid scheme. The tides may be turning in favor of Herbalife and against William Ackman, who has predicted Herbalife’s collapse and bet a fortune against the public company.

Federal prosecutors and FBI are investigating whether individuals including people hired by Ackman made false statements about the company in order to incite probes into Herbalife and lower its stock price, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter.

The Journal said investigators are reviewing public statements and allegations communicated to regulators by consultants and activists who have lobbied against Herbalife, as well as any connections or potential collaboration between those individuals and Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management. Neither Ackman nor Pershing Square had been served with a subpoena or had been visited by FBI agents in connection with the investigation, an anonymous source told the newspaper.

An FBI spokesperson declined to comment on the report, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York didn’t respond Friday to a request for comment.

In a letter sent Friday to his investors, Ackman said Pershing Square is unaware “of any statements that we have made that are untrue, nor are we aware of any unlawful conduct on our part or by any consultants that we have hired."

For the last two years, Ackman has repeatedly called Herbalife a pyramid scheme and pressed regulators to investigate its business practices. FTC and the attorneys general in Illinois and New York are investigating the company, according to court records in a private lawsuit filed against Herbalife. Herbalife also has disclosed SEC requested information from the company.

Last year, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez told a U.S. senator that since 1996 the agency has brought 15 cases against companies that were masquerading as MLMs and engaged in unlawful pyramid schemes.

Ackman first blasted Herbalife’s business model in a December 2012 presentation on Wall Street. He argued Herbalife is focused on rewarding distributors for recruiting others into its massive distribution network so they can buy products from the company and that few consumers outside the network actually buy Herbalife’s products.

Herbalife sells weight-management and nutrition products through a network of 4 million members in 91 countries.

The 35-year-old Herbalife has questioned its adversary’s motives and vigorously denied the pyramid scheme allegations.

The MLM, whose annual net sales last year totaled nearly USD $5 billion, discloses the average compensation of its distributors, which the company has said offers a great deal of transparency. Herbalife also has produced surveys that show most of its distributors—now called members—purchase weight-loss shakes and other products for their own consumption rather than as a business venture.

"Mr. Ackman has a $1-billion bet against Herbalife and a direct financial interest in hurting our company," Alan Hoffman, Herbalife’s executive vice president of global corporate affairs, said Thursday in a statement, commenting on the reported investigation by federal prosecutors into potential stock manipulation. “For more than two years, he has spent over $75 million orchestrating a false and fabricated attack against Herbalife, all in an effort to enrich himself. We are confident in the strong fundamentals of our business model and have remained committed to helping people and communities improve their nutrition, while knowing that one day his tactics would be exposed."

In its recent annual report filed with the SEC, Herbalife said its defense against Ackman’s claims includes “proactively reaching out to regulatory agencies and governmental authorities."

About the Author(s)

Josh Long

Associate editorial director, Natural Products Insider, Informa Markets Health and Nutrition

Josh Long directs the online news, feature and op-ed coverage at Natural Products Insider, which targets the health and wellness industry. He has been reporting on developments in the dietary supplement industry for over a decade, with a focus on regulatory issues, including at the Food and Drug Administration.

He has moderated and/or presented at industry trade shows, including SupplySide East, SupplySide West, Natural Products Expo West, NBJ Summit and the annual Dietary Supplement Regulatory Summit.

Connect with Josh on LinkedIn and ping him with story ideas at [email protected]

Education and previous experience

Josh majored in journalism and graduated from Arizona State University the same year "Jake the Snake" Plummer led the Sun Devils to the Rose Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes. He also holds a J.D. from the University of Wyoming College of Law, was admitted in 2008 to practice law in the state of Colorado and spent a year clerking for a state district court judge.

Over more than a quarter century, he’s written on various topics for newspapers and business-to-business publications – from the Yavapai in Arizona and a controversial plan for a nuclear-waste incinerator in Idaho to nuanced issues, including FDA enforcement of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).

Since the late 1990s, his articles have been published in a variety of media, including but not limited to, the Cape Cod Times (in Massachusetts), Sedona Red Rock News (in Arizona), Denver Post (in Colorado), Casper Star-Tribune (in Wyoming), now-defunct Jackson Hole Guide (in Wyoming), Colorado Lawyer (published by the Colorado Bar Association) and Nutrition Business Journal.

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