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Published: Saturday, 6/29/2002

License questioned for gelatin shots

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

State officials' distaste for alcohol-gelatin shots called Zippers led to a raid this week on the Toledo company that owns the trademark.

Earl Mack, the agent in charge of liquor enforcement investigations in northwest Ohio, said the company was investigated because of a perception that the product was marketed to youths.

Allegations that BPNC, which owns the trademark, was manufacturing, marketing, and selling the product without a license presented a chance to close the company, he said.

“How do you get rid of a problem? You go after the heart of it,” Mr. Mack said. “If they didn't have a license to do what they were doing, we could put them out of business.”

Stephen Rothschild, a Toledo attorney representing BPNC, said the company is still operating and has done nothing illegal. He said he believes the company was targeted unfairly because some state officials object to the product, which is manufactured and distributed by a separate company with the proper licensing.

“We are not being charged with the crime of selling alcohol to children. We would never do that,” said Mr. Rothschild, with the law firm Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick. “Our clients think that is outrageous. It's important to understand that's not what we are being charged with.”

He said the company was not manufacturing or selling Zippers from its offices at SeaGate Business Center on North 14th Street, which were searched Tuesday. Items such as computers, documents, and vehicles were confiscated.

John Weglian, chief of the special units division of the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office, said the information that was gathered will be reviewed before a decision is made about whether to present a case to a grand jury.

After an article appeared in USA Today in April, Zippers came under fire from substance-abuse professionals. Even Ohio First Lady Hope Taft weighed in, saying she thought the product's packaging was misleading and parents could buy it for their children by mistake.

Mary Anne Sharkey, a spokeswoman for Gov. Bob Taft, said neither the governor nor Mrs. Taft prompted the investigation into the company.

“Her concern is whether it's aimed at getting young people to drink alcohol,” Ms. Sharkey said.

Mr. Rothschild said his clients don't want children to consume Zippers and pointed out that packages bear prominent warning labels.

Mr. Mack said Lt. Gov. Maureen O'Connor, as director of the Department of Public Safety, was aware of the Zippers investigation and was concerned about the product's marketing.

“She's always been concerned about anything that's marketed or appears to be marketed toward our kids, which is what started our investigation,” Mr. Mack said.

Ms. O'Connor could not be reached for comment. Ashley Ellis, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety, said Ms. O'Connor would have been aware of the investigation through a weekly summary she receives.

Ms. Ellis said the investigation was done at the request of Ed Duvall, the department's deputy director.

BPNC was formed in 1998 by Brian Pearson and Nick Costanzo, who were friends and classmates at Genoa High School. Recently, Mr. Costanzo estimated the company would hit $6 million in sales this year. Zippers are sold in 26 states, the United Kingdom, and Asia.



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