McKenna secures settlement with Australian e-book peddler

Nick Rees Mar. 9, 2010, 2:49pm


SEATTLE (Legal Newsline) - Sexy stories used to sell bogus health cures over the Internet have led to a settlement between two Australians and Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna.

McKenna filed a lawsuit in 2009 against Leanne Rita Vassallo and Aaron David Smith over alleged deceptive business practices. It accused the pair of violations of Washington's Consumer Protection Act.

Vassallo and Smith made millions of dollars by selling e-books for health conditions ranging from acne and asthma to sexually transmitted diseases and cancer, McKenna said.

The Internet was littered with ads by the pair that showcased fictitious testimonials from people who had found secret miracle cures, McKenna said, adding that the ads often suggested that the writers lived in Seattle.

Many of the sites for the e-books used sexual innuendos to get viewers' attention, including using such headlines as "Sex Crazed 60 Year Old Reveals a Simple Home Treatment that Eliminates Fibromyalgia in Days," McKenna said.

To download the treatment e-books, consumers paid between $16.97-$24.47. The e-books contained few facts about the relevant disease and instructed the consumer to either consumer a concoction of apple cider vinegar and baking soda or something called "Miracle Mineral Solution" as part of an extreme diet, McKenna said.

"The Internet has become a planet-wide hunting ground for fraudsters who lurk just below the surface like crocs in a river," McKenna said. "But this case proves that whether they're on the prowl in Seattle or Sydney, they're still within justice's reach."

The case was also brought to the attention of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which then filed a civil lawsuit in the Federal Court of Australia alleging violations of the Trade Practices Act of 1974.

A federal court order was then obtained to shut down the operation, with the case's judge describing the defendants as "purveyors of quack medical advice and quack medicine."

Washington's settlement, filed in King County Superior Court this week, includes restitution for an estimated 654 Washington consumers who purchased the e-books. Vassallo and Smith are also specifically prohibited from selling health-related products via the Internet to Washington consumers and from using fake photos, deceptive testimonials and other misrepresentations to sell anything else online.

Vassallo and Smith will pay more than $14,000 in restitution, which will be distributed as refunds to Washington consumers who paid through PayPal or ClickBank for their e-books. The defendants will also pay nearly $25,000 to reimburse the state for attorney's fees and legal costs. A $200,000 civil penalty has been suspended by McKenna's office provided the defendants comply with the settlements.

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