Natural supplements firm engaged in Mob tactics?

Until late last year, Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals appeared to be a thriving business with a hot-selling line of natural dietary supplements. But in a bizarre case quietly unfolding in federal court in Atlanta, prosecutors allege that it was really a criminal enterprise that sold dangerous “spiked” products and was run by executives who considered assassination and blackmail to quash a federal investigation.

The allegations are the most far-ranging ever leveled against a major player in the loosely regulated dietary supplement industry. Among other things, prosecutors allege in court filings that some or all of the defendants:

* Discussed killing a U.S. Food and Drug Administration agent and blackmailing an assistant U.S. attorney. Neither plot was carried out, but a Hi-Tech co-founder was subsequently jailed after being convicted of being a felon in possession of a “firearm silencer.”
* Used the herbal stimulant ephedra in Hi-Tech diet products after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned its use on April 12, 2004, finding it presented “an unreasonable risk of illness or injury.”
* Sold "herbal" supplements that actually contained the active ingredients of prescription drugs that could interact dangerously with other medications.
* Illegally imported and sold banned steroids.
* Manufactured phony ecstasy tablets that were sold on U.S. streets.
* Created a muscle-building drink that was later marketed as a cleaning solution in an effort to mislead investigators.

The shocking allegations spring from the Sept. 7 indictment of the company and 11 executives, employees and associates for allegedly operating an illegal Internet pharmacy in Belize.

The indictment also charged Hi-Tech President and CEO Jared R. Wheat, 35, with operating a “continuing criminal enterprise” — a violation of an anti-organized-crime statute that carries a minimum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Wheat has pleaded not guilty to all charges and Hi-Tech said in a statement that it is "appropriately conducting its business and there is no basis for the indictment."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not issued any safety advisories for Hi-Tech products since the indictment. Representatives of the FDA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta said they could not discuss the ongoing criminal case.

Considered the indictments against this firm, we cannot tell yet which ones are true and which ones are not. The situation is especially bad for the producers that do work with only natural and legal substances. Because it is also their integrity that is questioned when cases like this become widely known.

Read the full article on MSNBC.

Photo: Jared R. Wheat, president and CEO of Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals