Criminal Charges Filed Over Poisonous Toothpaste

By Jacob Adelman
Associated Press
Friday, March 7, 2008

LOS ANGELES, March 6 -- Criminal charges have been filed against a company that prosecutors say imported and distributed nearly 90,000 tubes of Chinese toothpaste containing a poisonous substance, L.A. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo announced Thursday. A wholesaler that supplied local stores with the tubes was also charged.

Selective Imports sold the toothpaste containing diethylene glycol to distributors nationwide between December 2005 and May 2007, prosecutors said. Vernon Sales is accused of buying some of the tubes and reselling them to Los Angeles stores.

Diethylene glycol is a chemical used in antifreeze and as a solvent. Chinese manufacturers have used the chemical, known as DEG, as a cheaper alternative to glycerin, which thickens toothpaste. Exposure to DEG, however, can cause kidney and liver damage over time.

Vernon Sales President Kamyab Toofer and Vice President Pejman Mossay were charged with 14 criminal counts each of receiving, selling and delivering an adulterated drug.

Selective Imports President Frahad Nazarian and Vice President Yones Ghermezi were charged with two criminal counts each of receiving, selling and delivering products containing DEG.

Each count carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The companies are liable for distributing the tainted product even if they had no direct knowledge of the risk because they were negligent in not ensuring the toothpaste was safe, Supervising Deputy City Attorney Jerry Baik said.

Ghermezi said he had not seen the charges but was shocked by the filing. All the adulterated toothpaste was voluntarily pulled from shelves and from his Vernon, Calif., company's inventory eight months ago and destroyed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month, he said.

"Everything we had was destroyed by the FDA," Ghermezi said. "I thought the file had been closed."

Ghermezi said he supplied the toothpaste to Vernon Sales, also based in Vernon. He said his company never knowingly sold adulterated toothpaste and thought the product had FDA approval.

"We didn't know of the ingredients of the toothpaste," he said. "We don't [have] any intention of hurting people."

Vernon Sales did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The charges stem from an inquiry after the FDA confiscated some 70,000 tubes of toothpaste delivered to the Port of Long Beach in May, Baik said.

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