Coffee product’s ‘active ingredient’ leads to guilty plea in Vermont fraud case



Published: 05-08-2024 2:41 PM

An Arizona man has pleaded guilty in federal court in Vermont to a fraud charge for trying to sell a coffee product marketed as a “natural” way to treat erectile dysfunction.

Lab tests revealed that the product marketed as “Hard Coffee” contained tadalafil, which is the active ingredient in the erectile medication Cialis.

William Jack Powell, 60, of Kingman, Ariz., pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in Burlington to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States.

Specifically, the charge alleged, Powell “knowingly conspired to introduce coffee to which tadalafil had been added with intent to defraud or mislead.”

Judge Christina Reiss set a sentencing hearing for Sept. 9.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Powell faces up to five years in prison, though the actual sentence will be determined taking into account advisory federal sentencing guidelines.

Powell is currently free on conditions, including that he not contact any witnesses who were part of the case against him.

John-Claude Charbonneau, a Vermont attorney listed in court filings as representing Powell, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

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The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act prohibits, “with some exceptions not applicable to these facts,” the “introduction or delivery for introduction” of any food to which a drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been added, according to charging documents in the case.

The filing stated that in May 2023 an unnamed “Cooperating Defendant” had taken part in conversations over a cellphone app with Powell about a product called Hard Coffee.

“Powell described the product as containing 95% coffee and 5% active ingredient,” charging documents stated. “Powell advised that he previously sold the product as an all-natural alternative to Cialis/Viagra but was sold out of the product and needed assistance in getting it manufactured.”

Powell sent a sample of the product to a person in Vermont, which federal authorities “secured” and had tested in a laboratory. The results showed a mixture of caffeine and tadalafil, the active ingredient in the FDA-approved prescription drug Cialis used to treat erectile dysfunction, the filing stated.

Nowhere on the bottles, according to the charging documents, did it list that the product contained tadalafil.

Several people, including the “Cooperating Defendant,” helped Powell obtain a new supply of Hard Coffee that contained tadalafil manufactured by overseas companies, which was then imported into the United States, according to the charging documents.

In October 2023, the filing stated, Powell told the “Cooperating Defendant” that he had plans to sell the product and had created a website to do so. Powell requested that the product be shipped to him in Arizona.

The website was live in October, the filing stated, and it described the product as “a natural alternative to traditional ED medication that does not have any adverse side effects.

If you have previously taken the ‘blue pill,’ you may have experienced headaches or negative effects, but this is not the case with HARD COFFEE.”

A “Buy Now,” link on the website offered the product for $24.95, which would provide for three cups of Hard Coffee, according to the charging documents.

The website also stated, “For maximum results we recommend just three to four cups of our coffee per week.”

A sealed federal warrant for Powell’s arrest was issued in October 2023 and he was taken into custody in Nevada in November 2023, court filings show.