Nikki Haskell, self-proclaimed weight loss expert and founder of the diet pills StarCaps, has pleaded guilty to misbranding her “natural” diet pills, as the supplements actually contained quantities of the prescription drug, bumetanide.
Haskell first made headlines in 2009 when the Food and Drug Administration discovered the pills were spiked with the drug, a water pill designed to act as a diuretic and promote weight loss. Bumetanide, however, can lead to serious side effects, such as allergic reaction, blistering, hearing loss, and unusual bleeding.
Haskell was charged with a misdemeanor that could potentially lead to jail time, but would more likely end in a fine of $60,000 to $100,000, the NY Daily News reported. StarCaps is but one of many potentially spiked diet pills, as the majority of products are shipped to the U.S. from China. StarCaps are marketed as “a natural blend of papaya and garlic from the higher Andes of Peru.”
“A large percentage of these products either contain dangerous undeclared ingredients or they might be outright fraudulent on the ingredients and have no effect at all,” Michael Levy, the director of the FDA’s division of New Drugs and Labeling Compliance, told The New York Times in 2009, when news of Haskell’s scam first broke. “We don’t think consumers should be using these products.”
These sentiments were met with conflicting celebrity endorsements at StarCaps’ peak. Stars like Kathy Lee Gifford and then Atlanta Falcons football player Grady Jackson (who used it to mask steroid use) both backed the weight loss pills. In 2010, Haskell declared bankruptcy after what she said was an attack on her by the NFL. In addition to Jackson stepping forward, five other athletes sued the league.
“I am devastated,” Haskell told The New York Post at the time of Jackson’s lawsuit. “We tried to settle. It didn’t happen. I’ve had this hanging over my head for a year and a half. I’ve thought of nothing else. It’s really taken a toll on me.”
Haskell, 72, said she had no idea big name retailers like Vitamin Shoppe and GNC were selling pills that had been tampered with. She blamed her manufacturers for the error.