Carson Shilled for Scam Medical Supplement Company

Ben Carson has made a lot of money giving speeches and shilling for what looks very much like a scam medical supplement company called Mannetech. What makes this news even more interesting is that it’s being reported by conservative magazine National Review.

Mannatech has a long, checkered past, stretching back to its founding more than a decade before Carson began touting the company’s supplements. It was started by businessman Samuel L. Caster in late 1993, mere “months,” the Wall Street Journal later noted, before Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, which greatly loosened restrictions on how supplement makers could market their products. Within a few years of its inception, the company was marketing a wide variety of “glyconutrient” products using many of the same tactics previously described in lawsuits against Eagle Shield, Caster’s first company.

In November 2004, the mother of a child with Tay-Sachs disease who died after being treated with Mannatech products filed suit against the company in Los Angeles Superior Court, seeking damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent misrepresentation, and conspiracy to commit fraud. The suit alleged that the Mannatech sales associate who “treated” the three-year-old had shared naked photos of the boy — provided by his mother as evidence of weight gain, with an understanding that they’d be kept confidential — with hundreds of people at a Mannatech demonstration seminar. The sales associate was further accused of authoring an article, in the Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association in August 1997, explicitly claiming that Mannatech’s supplements had improved the boy’s condition, even though the boy had, by that time, died. The suit also presented evidence that Mannatech was still using photographs of the boy in promotional materials on its website in March 2004, “with the clear inference that [the boy] was alive and doing well some seven years after his actual death.”…

In 2007, three years after Carson’s first dealings with Mannatech, Texas attorney general Greg Abbott sued the company and Caster, charging them with orchestrating an unlawful marketing scheme that exaggerated their products’ health benefits. The original petition in that case paints an ugly picture of Mannatech’s marketing practices. It charges that the company offered testimonials from individuals claiming that they’d used Mannatech products to overcome serious diseases and ailments, including autism, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and life-threatening heart conditions.

Separately, the suit alleges that the company sold a CD entitled “Back from the Brink” that “provided example after example of how ‘glyconutrients’ (i.e., Mannatech’s 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.”

The complaint from Abbott’s office further suggested that the company had used careful wording in a scheme to avoid liability, instructing their sales force “not to refer to Mannatech’s products by name when making certain claims, but instead [to] refer to them generically as ‘glyconutrients,’” before “direct[ing] the customer to the ‘only company that makes these patented glyconutrients’ — Mannatech.”

A 20/20 investigative report from the same year revealed a similar pattern, finding that Mannatech sales associates were hawking the company’s signature drug, Ambrotose, which “costs at least $200 a month,” as “a miracle cure that could fix a broad range of diseases, from cancer to multiple sclerosis and AIDS.”

Carson’s business manager, fellow black conservative Armstrong Williams, is lying about it:

“I don’t know that he’s ever had a compensated relationship with Mannatech,” says Armstrong Williams, Carson’s business manager, when asked about those appearances. “All we know is that the Washington Speaker’s Bureau, which booked hundreds of speaking engagements for him through the year, booked these engagements. He had no idea who these people are. They’re booked through the speakers’ bureau. The question should be asked to the Washington Speakers Bureau, when did they have a relationship with Mannatech, because Dr. Carson never had one.” (At Washington Speakers Bureau, Carson is listed as a level-6 speaker, meaning his fee is more than $40,000 per speech.)

Williams adds that Carson won’t personally be answering any questions about his interactions with the company, “because that is the decision that has been made.”

Which might be true if Carson had merely been paid to give a speech at a Mannatech conference, but in fact he has specifically shilled for Mannatech’s products:

In March of last year, Dr. Ben Carson, the conservative star considered a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, appeared in a video for Mannatech, Inc., a Texas-based medical supplement maker. Smiling into the camera, he extolled the benefits of the company’s “glyconutrient” products:

The wonderful thing about a company like Mannatech is that they recognize that when God made us, He gave us the right fuel. And that fuel was the right kind of healthy food. You know we live in a society that is very sophisticated, and sometimes we’re not able to achieve the original diet. And we have to alter our diet to fit our lifestyle. Many of the natural things are not included in our diet. 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.

Yet Carson’s interactions with the company continued until at least March 2014, almost five years after the suit was settled, and a decade after the company’s marketing practices had first begun to come into question. That month, about a week before the online video was posted, Carson shot a PBS special in which he discusses nutrition, again praising “glyconutrients” in generic language similar to the video’s:

We aren’t necessarily getting the nutritional value that we need. So as I analyzed all those things, I began to realize that that was a significant portion of my problem. And I started to try to figure out, how do you get that supplementation? Well, I became particularly interested in glycoscience, glyconutrients. These things are in your apples, your bananas and beets and everything, you know, that’s growing, but by the time we get them, they frequently are gone. And I discovered you can actually concentrate those in powders and pills and things like that. And there are a number of different types of vitamins and supplements that are there. I advise people to actually look into this.

In a video on the company’s site, Ray Robbins, a co-founder of the company, says in a speech previewing the PBS special, “I wrote him a thank-you letter yesterday, saying, ‘Dr. Carson, it’s happening. This is being aired. I just can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate the fact you recognize who and what we are, what glyconutritionals are, and you chose to get up on a soapbox with us.’ And he did such an extraordinary job, you are going to love this show.”

Nope, sorry, that lie isn’t going to fly here. Carson is caught pretty much red-handed and he’s caught by a conservative website, so they can’t try the “this is a liberal lie” tactic.

POPULAR AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Kevin Kehres

    Glyconutrients?

    You mean sugar water?

  • John Pieret

    What makes this news even more interesting is that it’s being reported by conservative magazine National Review.

    Hmmm … it’s all well and good to have a black conservative around as window dressing but nobody wants him to start getting any ideas above his station …

  • dean

    …so they can’t try the “this is a liberal lie” tactic.

    If I were a betting man I’d take that wager.

  • Donnie

    One of the many potential Republican 2016 Presidential candidates does not want Dr. Carson’s bid to gain any momentum. This piece, conspiratorially, sounds like the non-Tea Party types want control of the Presidential nominees. Plus, a quick look at the National Review revels this gem.

    Amway founders, the DeVos family, who also sell nutritional supplements.: http://nrinstitute.org/programs/wfb-prize-dinner

    Regardless of the reasons, I am glad Dr. Carson’s involvement in this medical scam have been given the publicity it deserves.

  • shallit

    With each passing day Carson is looking more and more like an ignorant & dishonest crackpot.

  • Akira MacKenzie

    I don’t see what NR is complaining about. These are entrepreneurs taking a risk and trying to achieve greatness in the free market. It’s not their fault that people want to buy ineffective supplements, the consumer ought to know better! Carson is just responding to market demand.

  • karmacat

    So if Carson thought these products were so great why was he still doing neurosurgery?

  • marcus

    I figured it was only a matter of time before the knives came out.

  • bahrfeldt

    Maybe he’s just too nouveau riche for the National Review? Or maybe just too dark?

  • Michael Heath

    shallit writes:

    With each passing day Carson is looking more and more like an ignorant & dishonest crackpot.

    I thought that was obvious when Mr. Carson burst outta the gate.

    What I think is beginning to increasingly emerge is that even low-level hucksters like Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson can brand themselves as credible presidential candidates. Or vice versa, work to brand oneself as a presidential candidate and then instead work cons on the very people that are delusional enough to believe you’re a credible candidate.

    That latter scam is a relative new one to me. Sarah Palin’s been the exemplary model, marketing not somebody else’s shit but herself via a PAC that never seems to pay-out much of anything to the candidates she claims to support.

  • Michael Heath

    Following is the first comment post I encountered at the NRO article Ed links to above. “shane” writes:

    Jim Geraghty [sic] This is a pathetic attempt to try and critizie [sic] Dr. Carson. Here is a helpful suggestion. Go look up Hillary Clinton’s and President Obama’s Troubling [sic] past and current connections. Bill Ayers, Saul Alinsky. [sic] Just to name a few! Do a story on that!!

    Aahh, the pungent smell of conservative denialism seasoned with a healthy dose of idiocy. At least shane referred to Barack Obama as the president.

  • colnago80

    Go look up Hillary Clinton’s and President Obama’s Troubling [sic] past and current connections. Bill Ayers, Saul Alinsky. [sic] Just to name a few

    Obama was 11 years old when Alinsky died, hardly a connection.

  • Michael Heath

    The next several comments posts after the one I linked to above all provided vivid and entertaining examples of fatally defective arguments. Here’s another; this one’s from “MissyCharlotte”:

    Jim Geraghty please stop trying to dig up dirt on Dr. Carson. It won’t work.

    Given the degree of denialism required to be a conservative Christian, she could be correct when it comes to that aspect of the voting population.

    Imagine having an audience where all the commenters are delusion idiots. Back in the 1970s I used to think one of the most embarrassing jobs on the planet was TV game show host (Alex Trebek excepted). Now I think it’s publishing content consumed by conservative voters.

  • spamamander, internet amphibian

    A use of the search engine on Quackwatch brings up quite a few hits regarding Mannatech. ’nuff said.

  • Loqi

    Carson Shilled for Scam Medical Supplement Company

    No surprise here, given that his claim to fame is shilling for a scam political party.

  • Jesper Both Pedersen

    Hi Ed. You’re a real stand up guy. Good job.

    Great way to use your privilege.

    Fucker.

  • dingojack

    Jesper Both Pedersen — what a coherent, detailed, evidence-based and thoughtful argument! Good job.

    @@

    Dingo

  • caseloweraz

    Yeah, Ed — shame on you for using your privilege of access to National Review (a privilege we all enjoy) to point out its exposure of Dr. Ben Carson’s shady connection.

    After all, the saintly Dr. Carson may run for president. Why are you playing the race card?

    /sarc

  • colnago80

    Re Jesper Both Pedersen @ #16

    Ah gee, Pedersen is taking time out from bashing Israel to criticizing Brayton for exposing Carson for the phoney he is.

  • jws1

    Wow! Dueling douchebags at 16 and 19! Smart money’s on SLC FTW.

  • eric

    @1 – yeah I noticed that too. I think it shows just how contemptuous these con artists are of their victims. Literally using the chemical prefix for “sugar” for their product name because they don’t expect any of their shills to get it. Maybe for his third business Castor will market a product called oleo ophidia.

  • U Frood

    Glyconutrients?

    You mean sugar water?

    Electrolytes! It’s what plants crave.