By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
BIRMINGHAM — A Jefferson Circuit Court judge has entered a preliminary injunction against a controversial Fultondale company and its owners.
Judge Caryl Privett issued the injunction Thursday afternoon against S.W.A.T.S., a sports supplement supplier and fitness center, and owners Mitch Ross and Chris Key. The injunction keeps the business closed; it was first shut down on Sept. 5 in a raid by agents for Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, assisted by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
In Thursday’s hearing, the state presented five expert witnesses who testified that the products sold by S.W.A.T.S. either did not work as advertised, or were in fact harmful to users.
Testimony focused on three groups of products sold by the company. Among them are the spray products that contain insulin-like growth factor 1, or IGF-1, which the company claims is harvested from the antler velvet of immature deer.
Dr. Larry Bowers, the chief science officer of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), disputed the claimed 97 percent concentration of IGF-1 in the Ultimate Spray and S.W.A.T.S. Jacked Spray products. He also called into question a publication by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, an Australian government agency, which S.W.A.T.S. cited in its sales materials.
Bowers said that the publication was not a peer-reviewed medical study, but rather a report issued to aid those who wanted to raise deer and harvest their antlers for profit. “It’s certainly not a scientific study,” Bowers said. “Even RIRDC say it [deer antler velvet] is not curative.”
(USADA is the national agency that regulates what substances are named as performance-enhancing drugs, and therefore banned from use in athletic events.)
Dr. Jordan Geller, who is the clinical chief of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said that putting IGF-1 directly into the bloodstream could have severe side effects, including low blood sugar, elevated pressure on the brain, Bell’s palsy, enlargement of the tonsils, severe muscle pain and swelling of the hands, feet and joints.
Those side effects are not mentioned in S.W.A.T.S. sales materials, nor have peer-reviewed independent studies been done to test the company’s claims, Geller said.
The state also challenged the effectiveness of a “concussion cap” sold by S.W.A.T.S. which, when used with a substance called “Liquid Ice,” was intended to reduce the temperature of brain cells, thereby relieving symptoms of concussions. S.W.A.T.S. attempted to sell the cap to parents of youth athletes to help them recover from concussions faster, according to Assistant Attorney General Cameron McEwen.
That opinion was echoed by Dr. Joseph Ackerson, a pediatric neuropsychologist from Hoover who chairs the Alabama Sports Concussion Task Force. Ackerson said that there’s no research to support S.W.A.T.S. claims about the cap, and that young athletes might be induced to engage in riskier behavior because of a false sense of security.
Ackerson also called into question the credentials of Dr. Bill Greenman, who appeared on a YouTube video produced by Ross to extol the virtues of the cap.
“He’s an interesting gentleman who once was a circus performer, then became a preacher by getting an [ordination] online. But he’s not a doctor,” Ackerson said.
The state also heard testimony from Dr. Daniel Eichnem, who runs the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City, which tested samples of S.W.A.T.S. products orders through the company website by members of the attorney general’s staff; and Dr. James Dunning, a physical therapist from Montgomery who called into question the holographic “performance chips” sold by S.W.A.T.S.
Defense attorney Marcus Jones did not cross-examine any witnesses, but lodged several objections or reservations about witnesses and exhibits, mainly relating to the lack of time his firm to prepare for the evidence and witnesses.
“We knew that coming in we had a tough road to start off with,” Jones said. “At this time, Mitch and Chris are maintaining what they always have, which is that they aren’t doctors giving medical advice. There’s negotiations going on, but I can’t tell you what’s going to happen next week, and I don’t know what will happen in the months to come.”
Ross said simply, “I’ve got one comment — God is good. That’s all I’ve got.”
In a prepared statement, Strange said, “The claims made by S.W.A.T.S. are not only deceptive, they are dangerous. By asserting that their products have medical benefits that they don’t actually possess, this company presents a legitimate threat to the consumer.”
S.W.A.T.S. gained national fame in large part from a story in Sports Illustrated last February, which mentioned high-profile athletes such as Ray Lewis, since-retired linebacker for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, as users of the company’s products. Ross and Key have claimed that players at both the University of Alabama and Auburn University have used their products; that use has since been banned by both schools.
The company continues to enjoy a national profile, as evidenced by a crew from the CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes” attending the hearing.
Privett’s injunction will be in effect until a trial can be held in January.
The case is in civil court, and no criminal charges have been filed against Ross or Key. A spokesman for the attorney general’s office would not comment on whether criminal charges might be filed.