A seller of unapproved hormone diet pills has pleaded guilty to defrauding consumers

Hank Schultz, Senior Editor

June 9, 2023

3 Min Read
Seller of HCG diet pills faces up to six years in prison 

A Virginia man has pleaded guilty to distributing misbranded drugs under the guise of weight loss supplements. He faces up to six years in prison. 

Earlier this month Jonathan Corbett Cosie, 54, of Chesterfield, Virginia, pleaded guilty to two federal counts of introducing a misbranded drug into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud or mislead. Cosie was charged in Jacksonville, Florida, where he operated a business that sold HCG products billed as supplements for weight loss. 

HCG, or Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (“HCG”), is a hormone produced by the placenta during pregnancy.  

FDA: HCG ‘diets’ based solely on calorie restriction 

According to FDA, it has become popular to use HCG as weight loss aid in combination with severe calorie restriction, typically on the order of 500 to 800 calories a day. 

According to an FDA consumer warning site, many of these popular HCG products claim to “reset your metabolism,” change “abnormal eating patterns,” and shave 20 to 30 pounds in 30 to 40 days. 

“These products are marketed with incredible claims, and people think that if they're losing weight, HCG must be working,” said Carolyn Becker, director of the Office of Unapproved Drugs and Labeling Compliance in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “But the data simply do not support this; any loss is from severe calorie restriction. Not from the HCG.” 

Related:FDA seizes $3 million worth of kratom

According to an FDA statement about the case, Cosie had been importing HCG products from abroad and then applying his own labels to the bottles.   

As part of his guilty plea, Cosie has agreed to hand over all of his unsold inventory. According to the FDA statement, Cosie took $626,202 from his business from October 28, 2017, through December 24, 2020. He also received $20,000 when he sold the business, which operated under the name HCSGRX. Cosie’s sentencing hearing is set for September 21, 2023.  

Cases often start with seizures of packages 

Attorney Rick Collins, founding partner of the law firm Collins  
Gann McClosky & Barry PLLC, has defended a number of individuals in the sports nutrition and weigh loss space. He said the way this case unfolded is a familiar story. It started with the seizure of a shipment at an airport. 

“Court documents filed in this case suggest the website was operational for over three years, and surprisingly it’s still active even as of this writing. But the FDA investigation didn’t start from the discovery of the website but instead when Customs inspectors identified suspicious international packages containing hundreds of boxes of HCG at JFK airport. This is a common way that investigations into fitness and physique drugs including anabolic steroids begin—Customs seizes packages then refers the matter to an agency like FDA or DEA, which then does most of the investigatory legwork,” Collins told Natural Products Insider in an e-mail. 

Collins said investigators also set up an undercover purchase of products from Cosie and went through his trash to find incriminating evidence. 

Enforcement efforts aren’t keeping up 

Collins said in his view prosecutions such as this one have little deterrent effect because there are too few of them. 

“The total number of these cases investigated annually by federal agencies and brought by the government is proportionally tiny compared to the number of websites and social media accounts illegally selling fitness-related drugs, chemicals purportedly for “research purposes only,” and anabolic steroids. Often, when one gets busted, two others take its place. Where there’s a strong demand, supply will follow. To have a chilling effect on this market would require prioritizing a much more comprehensive approach by the government. So far, I haven’t seen that happen yet,” Collins said. 


About the Author(s)

Hank Schultz

Senior Editor, Informa

Hank Schultz has been the senior editor of Natural Products Insider since early 2023. He can be reached at [email protected]

Prior to joining the Informa team, he was an editor at NutraIngredients-USA, a William Reed Business Media publication.

His approach to industry journalism was formed via a long career in the daily newspaper field. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with degrees in journalism and German, Hank was an editor at the Tempe Daily News in Arizona. He followed that with a long stint working at the Rocky Mountain News, a now defunct daily newspaper in Denver, where he rose to be one of the city editors. The newspaper won two Pulitzer Prizes during his time there.

The changing landscape of the newspaper industry led him to explore other career paths. He began his career in the natural products industry more than a decade ago at New Hope Natural Media, which was then part of Penton and now is an Informa brand. Hank formed friendships and partnerships within the industry that still inform his work to this day, which helps him to bring an insider’s perspective, tempered with an objective journalist’s sensibility, to his in-depth reporting.

Harkening back to his newspaper days, Hank considers the readers to be the primary stakeholders whose needs must be met. Report the news quickly, comprehensively and above all, fairly, and readership and sponsorships will follow.

In 2015, Hank was recognized by the American Herbal Products Association with a Special Award for Journalistic Excellence.

When he’s not reporting on the supplement industry, Hank enjoys many outside pursuits. Those include long distance bicycle touring, mountain climbing, sailing, kayaking and fishing. Less strenuous pastimes include travel, reading (novels and nonfiction), studying German, noodling on a harmonica, sketching and a daily dose of word puzzles in The New York Times.

Last but far from least, Hank is a lifelong fan and part owner of the Green Bay Packers.

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