For ten years, he interacted with a medical-supplement maker accused of false advertising.
In March of last year, Dr. Ben Carson, the conservative star considered a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, appeared in a video for Mannatech, Inc., a Texas-based medical supplement maker. Smiling into the camera, he extolled the benefits of the company’s “glyconutrient” products:
The wonderful thing about a company like Mannatech is that they recognize that when God made us, He gave us the right fuel. And that fuel was the right kind of healthy food. You know we live in a society that is very sophisticated, and sometimes we’re not able to achieve the original diet. And we have to alter our diet to fit our lifestyle. Many of the natural things are not included in our diet. Basically what the company is doing is trying to find a way to restore natural diet as a medicine or as a mechanism for maintaining health.
Carson’s interactions with Mannatech, a nutritional-supplement company based in suburban Dallas, date back to 2004, when he was a speaker at the company’s annual conferences
.. He also spoke at Mannatech conferences in 2011 and 2013, and spoke about “glyconutrients” in a PBS special as recently as last year.
.. Mannatech has a long, checkered past, stretching back to its founding more than a decade before Carson began touting the company’s supplements.
.. The suit alleged that the Mannatech sales associate who “treated” the three-year-old had shared naked photos of the boy — provided by his mother as evidence of weight gain, with an understanding that they’d be kept confidential — with hundreds of people at a Mannatech demonstration seminar.
.. The sales associate was further accused of authoring an article, in the Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association in August 1997, explicitly claiming that Mannatech’s supplements had improved the boy’s condition, even though the boy had, by that time, died.
“I don’t know that he’s ever had a compensated relationship with Mannatech,” says Armstrong Williams, Carson’s business manager, when asked about those appearances.
.. “All we know is that the Washington Speaker’s Bureau, which booked hundreds of speaking engagements for him through the year, booked these engagements. He had no idea who these people are. They’re booked through the speakers’ bureau. The question should be asked to the Washington Speakers Bureau, when did they have a relationship with Mannatech, because Dr. Carson never had one.” (At Washington Speakers Bureau, Carson is listed as a level-6 speaker, meaning his fee is more than $40,000 per speech.)
.. The suit also presented evidence that Mannatech was still using photographs of the boy in promotional materials on its website in March 2004, “with the clear inference that [the boy] was alive and doing well some seven years after his actual death.
.. Williams adds that Carson won’t personally be answering any questions about his interactions with the company, “because that is the decision that has been made.”
.. In 2007, three years after Carson’s first dealings with Mannatech, Texas attorney general Greg Abbott sued the company and Caster
.. offered testimonials from individuals claiming that they’d used Mannatech products to overcome serious diseases and ailments, including autism, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and life-threatening heart conditions.
.. sold a CD entitled “Back from the Brink” that “provided example after example of how ‘glyconutrients’ (i.e., Mannatech’s products) cured, treated, or mitigated diseases including but not limited to
- toxic shock syndrome,
- heart failure,
- Lou Gehrig’s Disease,
- Attention Deficit Disorder, and
- lung inflammation.”
.. the company had used careful wording in a scheme to avoid liability, instructing their sales force “not to refer to Mannatech’s products by name when making certain claims, but instead [to] refer to them generically as ‘glyconutrients,’” before “direct[ing] the customer to the ‘only company that makes these patented glyconutrients’ — Mannatech.”
.. A 20/20 investigative report from the same year revealed a similar pattern, finding that Mannatech sales associates were hawking the company’s signature drug, Ambrotose, which “costs at least $200 a month,” as “a miracle cure that could fix a broad range of diseases, from cancer to multiple sclerosis and AIDS.”
.. “It’s rare for us to see a dietary-supplement manufacturer claim a particular product cures cancer, autism, or any number of retractable or incurable diseases.
.. In 2009, the state of Texas reached an agreement resolving the lawsuit against Mannatech, Inc., and Caster; under the settlement, Mannatech paid $4 million in restitution to Texas customers while admitting no wrongdoing
.. Yet Carson’s interactions with the company continued until at least March 2014, almost five years after the suit was settled, and a decade after the company’s marketing practices had first begun to come into question.
.. When asked for comment, Mannatech initially issued a statement declaring, “Dr. Carson is not a spokesperson or endorser of Mannatech.” But the company’s website touts Carson in connection with its products, and its homepage features a short video of Carson, promoting the special: “On March 11, Dr. Ben Carson, world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon, as well as humanitarian and best-selling author, conducted an informational presentation on PBS regarding brain health and referencing glyconutrients.
.. In a video on the company’s site, Ray Robbins, a co-founder of the company, says in a speech previewing the PBS special, “I wrote him a thank-you letter yesterday, saying, ‘Dr. Carson, it’s happening. This is being aired. I just can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate the fact you recognize who and what we are, what glyconutritionals are, and you chose to get up on a soapbox with us.’ And he did such an extraordinary job, you are going to love this show.”
.. when pressed, the company issued a short statement implying that Carson remained loyal to its products: “We appreciate his support and value his positive feedback as a satisfied customer.”