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Exercise device marketers settle with FTC, agree to $25 million refund


Trainers from local gym, District Crossfit gave students from Thurgood Marshall Academy a series of exercises to complete in Washington. (Marvin Joseph/WASHINGTON POST)

The marketers of an abdominal exercise device agreed to refund $25 million to consumers to settle charges that they falsely claimed their product would melt away 10 pounds of fat in two weeks if used three times a day.

The settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, which has yet to be finalized, ranks among the largest for exercises devices. The largest refund in that category was announced in May, when Skechers agreed to pay $40 million to settle charges that it could not back up claims about its toning shoes.

In this case, the FTC alleges that Ab Circle Pro’s marketers generated “substantial sales” online and in major retail chains after falsely claiming that the fiber-glass disk enables users to “melt inches and pounds” with little effort. The product’s pitchwoman, fitness guru Jennifer Nicole Lee, said she shed 80 pounds using the device, the FTC said.

Various ads for the product ran in print and on television, where they aired more than 10,000 times between March 2009 and May 2010 and ranked as one of the top 10 most frequently aired infomercials in the nation during that time. The advertising ceased most likely because of the FTC investigation, said Mary Engle, an FTC attorney.

While prices for Ab Circle Pro varied depending on the retailer, consumers who bought the device through the infomercial paid $200 to $250, according to the FTC. Anyone seeking a refund should go to www.ftc.gov. The marketers did not admit any wrongdoing, but agreed to pay $15 million to $25 million in refunds depending on consumer response.

“The FTC reminds marketers that they should think twice before promising a silver-bullet solution to a problem,” David Vladek, director of the FTC’s consumer protection bureau, said in a statement.

Fitness Brands International and its co-founders — Michael Casey and David Brodess — obtained the rights to Ab Circle Pro. They hired Lee to host the infomercials and New U to produce it. Tara Productions and its founder distributed the device, and Direct Entertainment Media Group in Fairfax also obtained rights to market and distribute it.

The complaint charged all of these entities, except for Lee, with making unsubstantiated claims. Since Lee was not an officer of any of the firms, her role and liability were different, the FTC said. The firms must each contribute money to the refund. Lee and the firms she controls are banned from misrepresenting the role that Ab Circle Pro or any other devices and foods or drugs played in her weight loss.

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