LA Importers Charged With Distributing Toxic Toothpaste

Chinese toothpaste containing a poisonous substance has an import company and a wholesaler facing criminal charges.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Chinese toothpaste containing a poisonous substance has an import company and a wholesaler facing criminal charges.
Selective Imports allegedly imported and distributed nearly 90,000 tubes of the toothpaste containing diethylene glycol, a chemical used in antifreeze and as a solvent, and Vernon Sales Inc. is accused of buying some of the tubes and reselling them to Los Angeles stores, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo announced Thursday.
Selective Imports sold the toothpaste to distributors throughout the country between December 2005 and May 2007, prosecutors said. Vernon Sales has been accused of buying some of the tubes and reselling them to Los Angeles stores.
The misdemeanor charges were filed on Monday, said Supervising Deputy City Attorney Jerry Baik.
Vernon Sales President Kamyab Toofer, Vice President Pejman Mossay and the company itself, were each charged with 14 criminal counts for allegedly receiving, selling and delivering an adulterated drug.
Selective Imports, its President Frahad Nazarian and its Vice President Yones Ghermezi were charged with two criminal counts each for receiving, selling and delivering products containing the chemical known as DEG.
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, Baik said.
Each count carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The announcement follows last month's indictment of two Chinese businesses and a U.S. company in incidents involving tainted pet food from China that killed potentially thousands of animals last year.
The charges stemmed from an investigation prompted by a May confiscation of some 70,000 tubes of adulterated toothpaste delivered to the Port of Long Beach, Baik said.
The federal Food and Drug Administration confiscated that shipment when it came from the same Chinese manufacturer as DEG-tainted cough syrup blamed for the deaths of at least 94 people in Panama since July 2006, he said.
The company executives charged Monday were accused of involvement in the sale of toothpaste delivered in a previous shipment, Baik said.
At least 480 tubes were resold by Vernon Sales to stores within Los Angeles, which gave the city attorney's office jurisdiction to investigate, Baik said.
He did not know how many of those tubes had been recovered and how many had been sold.
The shipments that came before the seizure in May included 78,336 tubes of spearmint-flavored ''Cooldent'' toothpaste sold by Selective Imports to distributors around the country, according to the city attorney's office.
Nearly 10,000 additional tubes of fluoride ''Cooldent'' were also distributed around the country in early May, prosecutors said.
City and federal officials said they knew of no illnesses associated with the toothpaste.
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 the company's inventory eight months ago and destroyed by the FDA last month.
''Everything we had was destroyed by the FDA,'' he said. ''Long time it hasn't been sold.''
Ghermezi said he supplied the toothpaste to Vernon Sales, but said his company never knowingly sold adulterated toothpaste and believed 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.''
A fax to Vernon Sales seeking comment was not immediately returned.
Associated Press Writer Robert Jablon contributed to this report.
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