- Montel Williams is suing a number of websites that he says used his likeness to sell scam medical-marijuana products.
- The sites — with names like Secrets of ISIS, Beauty Strong LLC, and Advanceable Technology LLC — are linked to an Arizona businessman, Timothy K. Isaac, who had previously pleaded guilty to a charge related to selling misbranded drugs.
- The ads were made to look like ABC News and Forbes contributor articles and used fake testimonials from celebrities.
- Customers who ordered a "free sample" of the product were locked into an automatic credit-card billing scheme they couldn't cancel, according to the complaint.
Montel Williams is suing a number of "scam" medical-cannabis companies in Arizona he says used his face to sell products without his permission.
According to the complaint, a network of corporate entities, with names such as Secrets of ISIS and Advanceable Technology, linked to Timothy K. Isaac, are accused of using Williams' likeness to hawk scam cannabidiol products and entrap customers into buying products that may not actually contain cannabidiol.
Isaac, a former weightlifter, pleaded guilty in 2009 to several charges, including one related to selling misbranded drugs. Isaac is named personally as a defendant in the suit.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is an active compound found in the cannabis plant; it has medicinal but no psychoactive properties.
Williams is a longtime medical-marijuana advocate. He started using the drug to ease symptoms associated with his multiple sclerosis in 1999 and founded Lenitiv Labs, a medical-marijuana company, earlier this year. It's geared toward the California market, with plans to expand to other states.
Lenitiv Labs operates a research division and offers a line of medical-grade cannabis oils and other products containing CBD as well as THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
"When Montel entered the cannabis industry by founding Lenitiv Labs, he did so because he believes patients deserve safe, efficacious cannabis medicines," Jonathan Franks, a spokesman for Williams and Lenitiv Labs, said in an email to Business Insider. "It’s important to understand what this scam was — this was a shameless and calculated attempt to weaponize Montel’s and Lenitiv’s credibility against seriously ill consumers."
After Williams spoke with Janet Burns, a freelance reporter and Forbes contributor, about his new venture in April, his words and face started appearing on the internet as ads for CBD products that he had never endorsed, with brand names like Revive CBD Oil and Hemptif CBD.
According to Burns, who first wrote the story of Lenitiv's founding, websites designed to mimic a Forbes contributor page and an ABC News article used portions of her original story and doctored quotes from Williams and other celebrities as testimonials for the products.
Fake testimonials from Whoopi Goldberg, who started her own line of medical-cannabis products, Whoopi and Maya, as well as Bill Gates, music mogul Dr. Dre, and Lady Gaga also appeared alongside those of Williams.
At least 12 sites hosted the ads that linked back to the sites that are linked to Isaac, according to the complaint.
Customers began complaining to Williams about the products they purchased, according to the complaint, even though he had nothing to do with the product. And, after customers had signed up for what was advertised as a "free trial," they were locked into an automatic credit-card billing scheme with no way to cancel, according to the complaint.
Isaac denied on Wednesday that he was responsible for running the ads.
"I'm tired of being blamed for stupid things," Isaac told The Phoenix News Times. "I'm tired of people trashing my name."
In 2009, Isaac pleaded guilty to a slew of federal charges related to a company he ran that imported a prescription-free Viagra-like drug from China, The Phoenix New Times reported that year.
The firm that Williams retained, Davis & Gilbert LLP, has "very successfully" handled a similar case wherein Dr. Oz's likeness was used to endorse scam products, Franks told Business Insider in an email.
"This suit was an easy decision for us because it’s true to the principles that underly Montel’s advocacy and on which the Lenitiv brand was founded," Franks added.
"Mr. Williams has instructed his attorneys to pursue this litigation aggressively," Franks said. "We intend to name more defendants as we learn the identities of the scammers involved."
Business Insider could not reach Isaac for comment.