RED HOT Contributors

 

Scammers Used My Article And Montel's Name To Hock CBD Oil — Now It's Lawsuit Time

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Screenshot via Play It On Point

A screenshot shows an online article which connects celebrity Montel Williams and a recent Forbes article with its own product line.

On April 20th of this year, I posted an article about Montel Williams’ long and very personal effort to produce a line of medical grade cannabidiol (or CBD) oil. Entitled “For The Past 17 Years, Montel Williams Did What The FDA Won’t: He Made Weed A Medicine,” the article included an interview with the navy veteran, former TV host, and founder of LenitivLabs that I was proud to publish.

Soon after, and for the following six months, Williams and I both found ourselves consistently contacted by people who had seen our names, pictures, and much of the same Forbes article regurgitated across an array of iffy-looking pages promoting separate products–or, worse yet, contacted by individuals who had fallen victim to the sites’ scams (wherein ‘free trial’ became a costly subscription) and suffered for it. While I received a steady trickle of such reports, Williams and his legitimate CBD company saw a deluge.

Now, after months of research and online connect-the-dots, his company is filing suit over the misuse of his name and reputation in what is likely the first such case for the cannabis industry. In perhaps the most mind-boggling detail of all, it would also appear that the named defendant of this secretly massive operation has previously faced legal action for his involvement in online sales of illegal Chinese “Viagra.”

Screenshots via addresses pictured

Web pages spoofing an April Forbes article show how subjects, quotes, and the title were altered to promote an unrelated product.

Filed Friday with the U.S. District Court in Miami on behalf of Williams and Montel Williams Enterprises, Inc., the complaint alleges that at least three companies linked to Timothy K. Isaac of Scottsdale, Arizona have intentionally and “blatantly” been using Williams’ reputation as a celebrity and CBD proponent following my April Forbes article, as well as comments he made therein and elsewhere, to sell “purported CBD oils” through numerous websites as part of multiple “unscrupulous businesses [and]online scams that are deceiving customers.” 

According to the suit, defendants including Advanceable Technology, LLC, Beauty Strong, LLC (formerly Hathor Secrets and Secrets of Isis, LLCs), Snowflake Marketing, LLC, and Isaac, to whom the companies are seemingly registered, have been “knowingly and willfully capitalizing on Plaintiffs’ valuable reputation and intellectual property to lure consumers into ordering their Infringing Products on the false premise that they have been tested, created, or recommended by Williams” despite repeated requests to cease and decist.

Through a range of news article- and blog-style pages across different websites, and including posts designed to mimic my Forbes contributor site as it appears with the original article, the responsible parties seemingly used and re-used my written content and selected photos of Williams, content from other sources, photos of additional celebrities, and likely lots of original material to promote subscriptions for a long list of products said to contain high quality CBD.

According to Williams’ suit, such products were marketed as Revive CBD Oil, Pure Isolate CBD, Pure Natural CBD Oil, TrueMed Hemp oil, Hemptif CBD, Assured CBD Oil, and Sky CBD, among other things.

See also: Trump Extends Cannabis Protections ‘Til December As Plans For Study, States Remain Hazy

As a result of Williams’ unauthorized association with the product subscriptions, the complaint argues, a large group of consumers have purchased these products under false pretenses and expressed this particular frustration to Williams’ company. Representatives for Williams told me that would-be CBD consumers have also reported feeling misled by the company’s ‘free trial’ model involving a self-renewed subscription, leading to bank overdrafts for some victims.

“Moreover,” the lawsuit continues, “Defendants’ conduct also raises serious public health and safety concerns because many, if not all, of the Defendants are marketing the Infringing Products as a means to cure, mitigate, treat or prevent diseases, illnesses, or serious conditions.”

According to plaintiffs’ attorneys, patients who have complained to Williams and company about the substance they were tricked into buying are living with such conditions as leukemia, Alzheimer’s, and fibromyalgia.

The operation also generated income from significant web traffic, helping put it well into profitability, according to Jonathan Franks, a spokesman for Williams. Prior to this instance, Advanceable Technology had already been put on notice by Ripoff Report and the Better Business Bureau.

See also: Equifax Was Linking Potential Breach Victims On Twitter To A Scam Site

Isaac himself also previously made waves in the late 2000s regarding his import and prescription-free online sale of a Chinese Viagra-style medication.

As the Phoenix New Times reported in 2009, Isaac pleaded guilty to “a slew of [federal]charges related to his illicit company,” and later served a short prison sentence. It further came out that Isaac had applied for Social Security disability benefits in 2006, received $35,000 in benefits, and taken out a mortgage on a $2.9 million house the same year.

When it comes to the damage this outfit has caused, I find it worth noting, too, that not only were my name, image, and reputation used to ruthlessly hock this stuff at an attractive profit, but also the written and visual content that I spent more than 12 hours preparing (and most of which, given the scrappy nature of freelancing, were billed under “labor of love”).

Screenshot via Twitter

In a Twitter exchange, Janet Burns and Montel Williams respond to a user who questions the validity of a spoofed online article bearing Burns’ name.

In a fairly straightforward way, the time I’ve had to spend fielding emails and Twitter inquiries from distressed victims and genuinely helpful whistle-blowers rather than working was also stolen from me (if, as above, not always at premium prices). I’ve had work stolen and recycled online before, if never this eggregiously, but generally haven’t found it worth my time to begin the long chase for a culprit.

Absent cease-and-decist letters or taking certain steps through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, there’s little I could feasibly due to get that content removed or seek damages, anyway, even to help the direct victims of this scheme: patients who sought medicine and found a con.

Because one thing that seeking legal justice requires even more than dedication and cash, it seems, is time. At present, I need to spend mine heavily on writing and researching to keep rent flowing in and articles flowing out.

But in the mean time, I will definitely be watching this case–and awaiting my own moment–with great interest.

See also: The Results Are In: Women Are Great For Business, But Still Getting Pushed Out

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