USDOJ Press Release, September 24, 2001
Alan Vinegrad, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Stewart McGee, Special Agent-in-Charge, United States Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), Office of Criminal Investigations, today announced the arrest in Bloomington, Indiana, of Sean Zhang (DOB 4/20/77) on charges of selling a misbranded and adulterated drug over the Internet. The drug, dinitrophenol, commonly known as “DNP,” is a highly toxic chemical normally used in the manufacture of dyes and wood preservatives and as a pesticide, and has recently been promoted as a weight loss drug favored particularly by bodybuilders. A federal grand jury in Central Islip, New York, returned a two-count indictment against Zhang on September 19, 2001. Last Friday, FDA agents from New York, Maryland, and Chicago field offices, with assistance from local police officers, arrested Zhang without incident at his residence. Pursuant to a court ordered warrant, law enforcement agents also searched his residence and seized a quantity of DNP, a pill counting machine, encapsulating tools, empty pill capsules, and three computers.
The federal investigation began after the Nassau County Police Department notified agents at the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations of the August 6, 2001 death of Eric Perrin, a 22-year-old Baldwin, Long Island, resident. The Nassau County Medical Examiner’s preliminary toxicology report disclosed that DNP was present in Perrin’s vital organs. The investigation revealed that Perrin had purchased capsules of DNP from “dnp101” at Gaithersburg, Maryland, an Internet chat room that caters to bodybuilding enthusiasts. Four of those capsules were retrieved by law enforcement from Perrin’s residence and have since tested positive for DNP. According to the FDA, when ingested, DNP is toxic to the liver, kidney and nervous system, and can cause increased body temperature, dehydration, rapid heartbeat, convulsions and death. (According to the FDA, the use of DNP in dietary preparations marketed in the 1930’s, and the resulting deaths and injuries, led, in part, to the passage of the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1938.) For additional information, contact the FDA at (301) 827-6250.
The federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act makes it illegal to introduce into interstate commerce any drug that is adulterated or misbranded with the intent to defraud or mislead consumers, and further provides that a drug is deemed to be misbranded unless it contains labeling that provides adequate directions for its use and warnings where its use may be dangerous to the user’s health. The government’s two-count indictment alleges that Zhang, doing business under the chat room name “dnp101,” sold and shipped capsules of DNP to Eric Perrin on July 30, 2001 and September 8, 2001. According to the affidavit filed in support of the government’s application for a warrant to search Zhang’s Bloomington, Indiana residence, Zhang abruptly moved out of his prior residence in Gaithersburg, Maryland, in mid-August shortly after Mr. Perrin’s death. The affidavit further alleges that Zhang continued to operate over the Internet from his new residence, touting DNP as “the most effective tool available today for the loss of body fat.”
In announcing the indictment and arrest, Mr. Vinegrad thanked Timothy M. Morrison, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, for his assistance, and stated, “Zhang’s indictment and arrest should send a clear message to those who would profit from the sale of unapproved drugs that we will find you, arrest you, and vigorously prosecute you in order to protect the public health and safety. We urge everyone not to use this drug as a weight loss remedy, or to ingest it for any reason. Our deepest sympathy goes out to the family and friends of Eric Perrin.”
Special Agent-in-Charge McGee stated, “The FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations is committed to protecting the public health. This case is particularly unfortunate as a death resulted from one person’s greed and total disregard for human life.” This afternoon in Central Islip, New York, United States District Judge Arthur D. Spatt, to whom the case has been assigned, ordered the defendant to be placed on house arrest subject to electronic monitoring and a $100,000 bond pending his arraignment at the U. S. Courthouse in Central Islip on October 11, 2001.
If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum sentence of three years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine on each of the two counts in the indictment.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney James Miskiewicz.
Update (FDA Notice, 2003)
On June 27, 2003, a United States District Judge sentenced Zhang to the maximum sentence of 5 years in prison for mail fraud. Zhang had previously pled guilty to mail fraud. The Court ordered Zhang to pay $445 restitution to FDA for undercover purchases and $113,000 restitution to one of Zhang’s customers for medical bills and lost wages. The Court also sentenced Zhang to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay a special assessment of $100.
This page was posted on November 19, 2004.