Counterfeiting Couple Pays High Price for Baby Formula Fraud

Article excerpt

Some parents who paid extra money to feed their dairy-sensitive babies a special infant formula instead unwittingly fed them a potentially dangerous milk-based formula. Two southern Californians recently pleaded guilty to the crime of trafficking counterfeit goods and are paying back an infant formula manufacturer more than $200,000 for a scheme that landed mislabeled baby food in grocery stores in their state.

Shane Thompson, who also went by the last name Devisser, and Margaret M. Thompson, who sometimes used the last names Devisser and Bell, bought regular infant formula called "Next Step," which cost $7 to $9 per can, and replaced the cans' labels with glued-on photocopies of labels from the hypoallergenic "Enfamil Nutramigen" that cost three times as much. The husband-and-wife team milked their profits by returning the disguised cheaper baby food for the highend refund.

"Here were two individuals presumably out to make a quick buck," says Jud Bohrer, a special agent in charge with the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI). "And the victims were the most vulnerable population, babies who had no choice in the matter."

Feeding a milk-based formula to infants who are sensitive to cow proteins can cause fever, vomiting, skin rash, and diarrhea. Says Bohrer, "Several mothers who unknowingly fed their infants the wrong formula had to rush their babies to the emergency room."

OCI special agents began investigating the sale of counterfeit Nutramigen infant formula in October of last year after getting complaints from Mead Johnson Nutritionals, Evansville, Ind., which makes both Nutramigen and Next Step. Consumers had reported to the company that the so-called Nutramigen looked different than in the past and appeared to be making their babies vomit or refuse to eat.

That October, OCI agents interviewed more than 100 duped consumers and store employees who had encountered the mislabeled product. The agents collected the counterfeit cans, which could be identified because they lacked the marking "NUTRAM" that was embossed on the bottom of the genuine cans.

Meanwhile, Mead Johnson notified major grocery store chains in southern California and area consumers to look out for the counterfeit cans, and FDA asked stores to check the driver's license or other photo identification of anyone who requested a refund for Nutramigen formula. …