Stark County businessman Benjamin Suarez, along with his direct mail and Internet marketing companies, has settled a multimillion dollar lawsuit brought by several California district attorneys.
The $1.8 million settlement signed off by an Alamada County judge on Thursday settles a lawsuit brought by California district attorneys that sought $4 million in civil penalties, plus $2 million more in restitution for allegedly false and misleading advertisements on the labeling of 17 Suarez Corp. Industries (SCI) products and the distribution of misbranded foods, drugs and medical devices in that state.
Suarez, who has already signed off on the agreement, said earlier this month that he agreed to settle for “only a fraction” of California’s $6 million demand, and insisted there will be no admission of wrongdoing on his part.
“There’s a lot of mythology about our company, like we’re outlaws,” he said. “The only reason we get that reputation is I have an attitude that I do not tolerate government corruption, and so I fight back.”
One of the products targeted by California as “an enormous source of profit” was advertised on the firm’s BioTech Research website as the Foot Choice Infrared Heat Massager.
The lawsuit charged that BioTech ads once claimed the device “prevents pain throughout the body, and cures breathing disorders and digestive problems.”
Federal Trade Commission investigators, however, already had learned in a 2008 inspection of company headquarters, customer letters and insurance claim forms that SCI had received “at least 35 complaints where customers stated they burned their feet as a result of using The Foot Choice Infrared Massager.”
Suarez not only stopped distributing the massager two years before the FTC inspection, but he also sent the remaining stock of product, a total of 19,908 units, back to the manufacturer in Taiwan for rework, the FTC records showed.
“These are consumer complaints that we got,” Suarez said earlier this month. “The people did not read the instructions and misused the product. These are complaints we got. They [California] didn’t get them. They got these complaints by subpoenaing our records.
“Any consumer product, I don’t care what it is, has people who don’t read instructions and have complaints.”
California also questioned the claims of other Suarez products ranging from pain relief to weight loss drugs.
Suarez, who launched a worldwide product marketing firm out of his home in Canton in 1970, still faces other legal hurdles.
His most recent legal battle began Sept. 24 with the announcement of an indictment by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Suarez, along with his firm and his chief financial officer, Michael R. Giorgio, are accused of conspiring to funnel more than $200,000 in illegal “conduit contributions” — through SCI and a host of its employees — to the 2012 Republican election campaigns of U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci and defeated U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel.
The Akron attorney representing Suarez in the federal case, Brian M. Pierce, said the trial is set to begin June 2.