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Published: Wednesday, 6/26/2002

Firm that markets alcohol-gelatin product is raided

Substance-abuse officials are concerned that Zippers, a gelatin product that contains about as much alcohol as a glass of wine, could end up in children's hands. Substance-abuse officials are concerned that Zippers, a gelatin product that contains about as much alcohol as a glass of wine, could end up in children's hands.

Law-enforcement authorities seized dozens of cases of products, documents, computers, and other items yesterday from a Toledo business that markets Zippers, a gelatin product that contains alcohol and resembles Jell-O containers.

Officials also searched the Genoa home of the company's president.

Authorities with the Ohio Department of Public Safety's investigative unit and Lucas and Ottawa county sheriff's offices searched BPNC, Inc., in the SeaGate Business Center on North 14th Street and the home of its president, Brian Pearson.

The company is believed to be in violation of manufacturing and licensing requirements for the distribution of alcoholic beverages, said John Weglian, chief of the special units division of the Lucas County prosecutor's office.

“It started out as an investigation involving illegal activity of BPNC, which is purported to be the owner of the Zippers product,” said Earl Mack, agent in charge of the investigative unit's northwest Ohio office.

“In the course of the investigation, we learned they had no liquor permit or authorization from the Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of Liquor Control, to operate,” he said.

Mr. Mack said BPNC needs a permit and/or authorization from the state to be a representative of the product.

“They can't even market the product. If that's what they were doing, it's illegal,” Mr. Mack said.

Company representatives said they haven't done anything wrong.

“The only thing they told us is that they thought we were operating illegally,” said Nick Costanzo, the company's vice president. “But we've been operating the way they told us to operate. ... If anybody's wrong, it's them.”

He said BPNC is a marketing firm that owns the trademark for Zippers. It does not make, sell, or distribute the product, he said.

In a statement released after the searches, Mr. Pearson said: “The company intends to vigorously contest the allegations and take all appropriate action to recover property seized by the sheriff's department in connection with the execution of the warrants.”

An investigation into BPNC began about 41/2 months ago after authorities received complaints about the product. It grew when authorities started looking at illegal sales and distribution of the product, Mr. Mack said.

An article in USA Today in April about Zippers reported concern over their sale. Substance abuse/prevention officials expressed concern that the product, which contains about as much alcohol as a glass of wine, would end up in children's hands.

Mr. Costanzo said he, Mr. Pearson, and most of the company's 14 employees were working when authorities arrived at the business yesterday morning with a warrant.

Authorities spent several hours removing boxes of documents, computers, and cases of products. Software, two vehicles, and other equipment to support the business also were seized.

“They took everything, even dry erase boards. There's nothing in there,” said Mr. Costanzo.

In addition to computers and products, ingredients were taken from Mr. Pearson's residence, Mr. Mack said.

One employee was arrested for an unrelated outstanding traffic violation. Otherwise, no charges or violations were issued yesterday, but criminal charges are forthcoming within the next week or two, Mr. Mack said.

Mr. Costanzo said he's not sure what's next for the company. The product is sold in 26 states, the United Kingdom, and Asia, he said.

The company was formed in 1998 and was expected to have $6 million in sales this year. It was started on a whim in Mr. Costanzo's father's house in Genoa by Mr. Costanzo and Mr. Pearson.

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