Ben Carson, a medical doctor and potential candidate for the GOP nomination for President in 2016, has taken a page from Bill Cosby over his role in an alleged “pyramid scheme” company that sells sketchy nutritional supplements. He’s stonewalling all questions.
Carson, a prominent Baltimore doctor who is now retired, has refused to answer any questions about his role promoting sketchy health supplements sold by a company called Mannatech, which has a history of lawsuits and actions by regulators.
Armstrong Williams, Carson’s business manager, has told media outlets that Carson won’t address his relationship with the company, according to the National Review.
Ben Carson Mannatech Promotional Efforts
Although Carson’s involvement with Mannatech goes back almost 10 years, it’s become an issue now because the African-American Republican is being promoted as a potential presidential candidate in 2016.
He has also become a top GOP spokesman against the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. But whether he can escape his shady past remains to be seen.
His involvement with Mannatech, a multi-level marking company that critics have likened to a “pyramid selling scheme” began in 2004.
The company, which sells weight-loss supplements, skin creams and a range of controversial products it calls “nutraceuticals” invited Carson to speak at its annual sales conference in 2004. He made return engagements in 2011 and 2013, according to media reports.
Williams told the National Review that the engagements were booked through a speakers bureau and insisted that Carson “had no idea who these people are.”
But Carson’s involvement with the company was much more extensive than speaking engagements.
He was also paid to make promotional videos touting the concept, known as “glyconutrition,” underlying the company’s products. He claimed that Mannatech’s product, “Nutriverus,” was effective in restoring a “natural diet as a medicine.”
“The wonderful thing about a company like Mannatech is that they recognize that when God made us, He gave us the right fuel,” he says. “And that fuel was the right kind of healthy food.”
Mannatech is particularly odious because it mixes religion in with it’s sales pitches, playing off the notion that its products are God given. The company’s name is even a play on the word “manna,” the Biblical term for holy food delivered by God to the Israelites.
Ambrotose, the company’s chief “glyconutritional dietary supplement,” is touted as a means to “improve your health with an advanced blend of saccharides.”
But a closer examination of the product shows that “saccharides” is merely a fancy term for a combination of eight common sugar and glucose substances, according to media reports.
Ironically, a doctor from Carson’s old employer Johns Hopkins University blew the whistle on such products in 2008, when Carson was still a colleague.
Dr. Ronald Schnarr wrote a 2009 paper published by the the medical journal “Glycobiology,” warning that “people desperate for medical breakthroughs” are spending billions of dollars on supplements that had not been subjected to “FDA-approved clinical trials.”
In some instances, he added, the medical value has been disproved.”
In addition, Dr. Hudson Freeze , a researcher with the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, Calif. told ABCNews that so-called glyconutrients did nothing more than increase flatulence in “authentic scientific studies.”
Carson offered an entirely different view in his promotional video. “Basically what the company is doing is trying to find a way to restore natural diet as a medicine or as a mechanism for maintaining health,” he said.
But the company went even farther than that. It claimed its products helped cure autism and non-Hodgkins lymphoma and other maladies.
It also claimed that its “glyconutritional” products “cured, treated, or mitigated diseases including but not limited to toxic shock syndrome, heart failure, asthma, arthritis, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Attention Deficit Disorder, and lung inflammation,” according to a regulatory action in Texas.
The regulatory action was brought against the company in 2007, while Carson was still involved, by then Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbot, who happens to be a Republican. Abbot was elected Texas governor last year.
He sued Mannatech for using “deceptive practices” that posed “a health risk to seriously-ill consumers who may forgo traditional medical attention because of the company’s false claims.”
Like most sketchy supplements that hold out the promise of “miracle” cures, consumers paid dearly for them. The company recommended a regimen for its supplement Ambrotose that cost at least $200 a month, according to a 2007 ABCNews report.
But in exchange, the company boasted that it was a “miracle cure” for such diseases as cancer, multiple sclerosis and AIDS.
In 2009, Mannatech agreed to paid $4 million to settle the Texas lawsuit. The money was used to pay restitution to customers. The company’s president also paid a $1 million fine and was banned from working for Mannatech for five years.
Despite the widely publicized settlement, Carson continued his relationship with the company. His YouTube video was published online last year.