Energy-drink maker soothes customers following convictions

By John Breslin | Jan 8, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO — Following the high profile trial and conviction of two people on charges of distributing potentially dangerous counterfeits, the maker of a popular energy drink were moved to remind customers they were removed from shelves many years ago.

Joseph and Adriana Shayota, of El Cajon in San Diego County, California, were convicted in federal court of conspiracy to produce and distribute millions of fake 5-Hour ENERGY drinks, according to a Dec. 1 article in the Los Angeles Times.

The conspiracy prompted the energy drink’s Michigan distributor, Living Essentials, to remove millions of bottles from the shelves in 2012.

Publicity from the trial led to the assurance from the company that all its products are now safe to drink. A notice with the assurance is posted on the company’s website.

“We are gratified by the court’s decision,” Melissa Skabich, spokesperson for 5-hour ENERGY, told the Northern California Record in an email statement.

“Criminal behavior should be punished and in this case, justice was served,” Skabich added. “We won a civil case earlier this year and now a federal court has ruled against the criminals responsible. The counterfeit product that had been produced was removed from shelves years ago and destroyed.”

The company was awarded $20 million against the couple and six others who pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the conspiracy. Dozens of others were also named in the civil suit.

It all began in 2009 when the Shayotas were contracted by the distributors to sell the product in Mexico.

They then altered the packaging and labeling, and began selling in the United States at prices below the normal retail price.

The conspiracy grew into a scheme that involved the production of an entirely counterfeit product made, prosecutors said during the trial, in unsanitary conditions by day laborers.

Whether anyone was harmed by drinking the fake product is unknown, but the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the drink, investigated eight deaths and a dozen life-threatening reactions to energy drinks during the period the fake product was distributed, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times following the November conviction of the couple.

“U.S. consumers rely on the FDA to ensure that their foods — and drinks — are safe and wholesome. When criminals introduce counterfeit foods into the U.S. marketplace, they not only cheat consumers, but place consumers’ health at risk,” Lisa L. Malinowski, special agent in charge of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations in Los Angeles, told the Times.

Joseph Shayota, 64, and Adriana, 45, are due to be sentenced in April. They face a 15-year sentence and a $2.2 million fine.

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