PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A federal jury heard opening statements Wednesday in the fraud trial of a retired doctor charged with selling fertilizer online as a weight loss drug.
DNP is a yellow powder used in explosives, herbicides and fertilizer. It is in fact a miraculous weight loss drug, the first chemical marketed that way back in the 1930s.
Unfortunately, it also killed many of those who took it, so it was also one of the first to be banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
That has not discouraged some desperate dieters and bodybuilders from seeking it out. The government charges that Dr. William Merlino catered to them by encapsulating DNP and selling it online.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joan Burns showed the jury a tweet from Merlino’s account advertising DNP for weight loss, but noting it was labeled as fertilizer since it is not legal for weight loss.
She said that in a secondary scam after he was arrested, Merlino faked pancreatic cancer in an effort to avoid standing trial.
Merlino’s lawyer called the fake cancer charges “a red herring” and said the case is only about whether the DNP was misbranded. He said it was not because all the labels said “not for human consumption.”
The first witness was the chief clerk of the May’s Landing, New Jersey post office, from which Merlino shipped the DNP. She said he was known there as “the yellow man” because his skin, hair, and packages were always covered in yellow powder.