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Four defendants pleaded guilty yesterday to importing from China more than a half million tubes of toothpaste falsely labeled as the popular brand Colgate and containing a toxic chemical found in antifreeze.
According to a U.S. Department of Justice statement, the defendants were responsible for 518,028 tubes of toothpaste worth an estimated $730,419 that were shipped into the country and distributed to bargain retail stores in several states last year.
Laboratory tests conducted by the Food and Drug Administration and the Colgate-Palmolive company revealed the toothpaste not only lacked fluoride but was also tainted with bacillus spores and diethylene glycol, a sweet-tasting poison found in engine coolant.
According to the FDA, the toothpaste contained enough diethylene glycol to pose a health risk to any consumer, but especially to people with compromised immune systems, infants and children.
“These defendants undermined the basic precept that consumers are safe to assume that when they purchase retail health and safety products, they are buying what the label says they are buying,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Matthew Friedrich. “A parent should never have to fear that buying an everyday item like toothpaste could put a family at risk.”
Julie L. Myers, a Homeland Security official, said something “as routine as brushing your teeth should not be dangerous.”
Consumers should not have to worry that criminals have tampered with the products they use or ingest,” she said.
The Justice Department said Saifoulaye Diallo and Habib Bah, both of New York City, and two New York corporations, Mabasss Inc. and Vidtape Inc., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Brian M.Cogan to trafficking in counterfeit goods and violating trademark laws.
The toothpaste itself was nearly indistinguishable in its packaging color and design from Colgate, but a few spelling errors and a false label statement that the product was made in South Africa identified the counterfeit.
The toothpaste was actually manufactured in China, which has a long and grisly history of manufacturing poisonous toothpaste, prompting the FDA last year to warn consumers from using any toothpaste made in the communist country.
As WND reported, a growing number of imported Chinese products are being recalled or linked to health hazards. Two of every three products recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission last year were Chinese imports – with an upward trend of defective, unsafe products found in every quarter of 2007.
Last year, Chinese imports were blamed for poisoning America’s pets, risking America’s human food supply and reintroducing lead poisoning to America’s children.
The chemical diethylene glycol in the counterfeit Colgate was also found in a Chinese-made cough syrup blamed for 51 deaths in Panama two years ago.
The Sun reported that despite the wide distribution of the counterfeit Colgate, no incidents of consumer injury have been reported, and the importers were likely unaware of the product’s danger.
“Some of the defendants say they brushed their own teeth with the counterfeit Colgate,” said federal prosecutor, Matthew Bassiur.
Colgate-Palmolive, which sells toothpaste and toothbrushes in more than 200 countries, according the Department of Justice report, has inspected several thousand discount stores over the past year to identify and remove the counterfeit toothpaste marketed under its name.
Sentencing for importers Diallo and Bah is scheduled for Jan. 9, 2009. They each face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $2 million. The two corporate defendants face a $5 million fine, restitution and up to five years of organizational probation.