Tuesday, January 23, 2007

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Attorney General Abbott Shuts Down Pyramid Scheme That Marketed Bogus Fuel Pill

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today stopped a Dallas-based pyramid scheme from illegally marketing the so-called "top secret gas pill" that it falsely claimed would increase fuel efficiency in automobiles. The Attorney General's settlement with BioPerformance and its owners, Lowell Mims and Gustavo Romero, prevents the defendants from continuing to deceptively market their products and ends the State's eight-month legal action against the company.

A combination of the defendants' frozen assets and the dissolution of two trusts created by Mims and Romero will provide more than $7 million in compensation to deceived consumers. Mims and Romero may continue to operate any legitimate enterprise, but may not deceptively market BioPerformance pills or similar fuel additive products.

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Video of BioPerformance Internet Site

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BioPerformance Bottle
Agreed Final Judgment with BioPerformance
Attorney General's lawsuit against BioPerformance
Restraining Order and Asset Freeze
Consumer Complaint Form

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View Video of News Conference

"Swift legal action stopped this cynical, brazen scheme to defraud consumers," said Attorney General Abbott. "With gasoline prices hitting record highs, these defendants aggressively marketed their worthless product as a wonder-cure. Sadly, these do-nothing pills were merely the tools of an elaborate pyramid scheme that enriched the sellers while buyers were left with empty hands and empty wallets."

Attorney General Abbott added: "Texans will not tolerate con artists who prey upon unsuspecting consumers. Though we will continue aggressively cracking down on fraudulent pyramid schemes that profiteer from worthless products, consumers should always be dubious when offered 'miracle' products that are long on hype but short on credible proof."

Last May, the Attorney General filed a lawsuit against BioPerformance that accused the company of violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. According to court filings, BioPerformance repeatedly and falsely claimed that its fuel pills could improve vehicular fuel efficiency by as much as 30 percent while also reducing engine emissions by 50 percent. BioPerformance also sold its fuel additive in powder form.

The Attorney General further alleged that the worthless product, combined with the defendants' downline marketing scheme, constitutes a product-based pyramid scheme, which violates the Texas Pyramid Promotional Scheme statute. By the defendants' own admission, they recruited 50,000 participants within six months of their scheme's inception.

Just months after BioPerformance's creation in 2005, the Office of the Attorney General received reports that Mims and Romero were making false claims about their product.

Appearing before standing-room-only crowds at seminars they organized across the country, Mims and Romero touted their products' capacity to significantly increase fuel efficiency and reduce vehicle emissions. At the seminars, the defendants' true purpose was to recruit product resellers who were charged several hundred dollars to join the scheme. Those newly minted resellers were subsequently instructed to recuit additional resellers and thus create a "downline" from which they could derive commissions.

BioPerformance's extensive Web site made similar unsubstantiated claims about product's capabilities, often referring to it as a "top secret formula" that was only available through company resellers. The site also reiterated defendants' sales pitches, promising potential resellers that selling the pills and recruiting others to do the same would reap them substantial fortunes.

To aid its investigation, the Office of the Attorney General retained respected scientific experts whose chemical analysis not only revealed that the defendants' pills did not significantly reduce fuel consumption, but also exposed naphthalene, a substance also used in moth balls, as their main ingredient. Although the defendants claimed that the pills were "non-toxic," "good for the environment," and "extremely safe...in all aspects of use," naphthalene is a toxin.

The State also determined that BioPerformance resellers credited with recruiting additional downline sellers were paid substantially higher commissions than were those who actually sold the company's products. Such a marketing and recruitment scheme is often indicative of a pyramid scheme.

Further evidence of a pyramid scheme was provided by Romero, the company's Vice President and Co-Founder, who admitted to selling BioPerformance for as much as $50 a bottle, despite its comparatively low $4 manufacturing cost. The defendants' dramatic markup on their worthless product, coupled with their downline marketing strategy, indicate they were organizing an elaborate, illegal, and unsustainable pyramid scheme.

In the coming weeks, the Office of the Attorney General will review consumer complaints and other data to determine how it will administer the resources available for consumer restitution. Consumers with questions or who wish to file a complaint can call 1-800-252-8011 (for callers within Texas) or (512) 463-2100 (for callers outside Texas). Complaint forms are also available online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.