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Retired Mays Landing doc gets prison for touting toxic weight-loss drug

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A retired Mays Landing doctor was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison for selling misbranded drugs online and obstructing justice.

William Merlino, 85, must also service one year of supervised release when he is freed.

The chemical 2,4-Dinitrophenol, DNP, has a variety of industrial and commercial uses, such as herbicides, dyes and wood preservatives.

But Merlino was packaging and selling it as a weight-loss aide. A customer in the United Kingdom died after DNP toxicity after ingesting the drug.

DNP was marketed for weight loss in the 1930s, before federal law safety requirements.

It had adverse side effects, including dehydration, cataracts, liver damage and death.

The drug was deemed toxic and never approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for human consumption.

A year-long investigation by the FDA revealed that Merlino, a retired physician, packaged and sold DNP for human consumption as a weight-loss drug, and that he used

Merlino used Twitter to advertise, eBay to sell and email to communicate with customers in the United States, Canada, and U.K.

He earned about $54,000 in online sales out of his home from at least November 2017 until March 2019.

A search warrant led to the recovery of bulk DNP, packaging and encapsulating materials, and a pill press.

Merlino was charged with one count of misbranded drugs into interstate commerce in December 2019.

While under indictment, he faked a pancreatic cancer diagnosis to avoid trial.

Forged medical records and doctor’s letters submitted to the court delayed the trial by several months.

When his obstruction was discovered in January 2022, he was charged with obstructing justice and detained. 

Merlino was convicted of the misbranding charge in August, and pleaded guilty to the obstruction in Januaray.

A shipping service witness testified Merlino was dubbed “the yellow man” because when he would bring a package to ship, they would see yellow dust from the chemical on his skin, nails and clothes.

“Misbranding and selling a toxic chemical not fit for human consumption as a diet drug places the public at grave and obvious risk,” U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero said. “The defendant’s deliberate, dangerous, and deceptive conduct in this case was egregious, and resulted in the tragic loss of a life. His faking having cancer to avoid accountability in our justice system only underscores his shocking contempt for the law.”

“Distributing unapproved and potentially toxic drugs under false labeling and in a deliberate attempt to avoid regulatory scrutiny endangers consumers who are in many cases desperate for treatment,” said Special Agent in Charge George A. Scavdis, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Metro Washington Field Office. “The fact a medical professional was involved makes the situation ever more troubling. We will continue to pursue and bring to justice those who jeopardize the public health.”


Lynda Cohen

Lynda Cohen founded BreakingAC after working as a local newspaper reporter for more than two decades. She is an NJPA award-winner and was a Stories of Atlantic City fellow.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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