Story copyright by Westfair Communications
Gabriel Letizia Jr., owner and executive director of AMA Laboratories Inc. in New City, was arrested Friday on charges of rigging tests for 30 years on sunscreen lotions and other consumer products.
The alleged scheme cost AMA Laboratories‘ customers millions of dollars and endangered consumers, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a press release.
Letizia, 69, pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud in federal court in White Plains. U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul E. Davison released him on a $500,000 bond, secured by the AMA property on Congers Road in New City.
Two weeks ago, Letizia proclaimed his innocence in a letter to the Westchester County Business Journal. He was responding to accusations by his former lab director, David Winne, who had accused him of being “fully aware” of the lab’s practices. Winne and three other lab workers have pleaded guilty to conspiracy for their roles in the scheme.
Letizia founded AMA in 1982. The lab tests consumer products for efficacy and safety on paid volunteers and it produces reports and marketing materials to support customers’ claims.
Twice in 2017, FBI agents and Rockland County District Attorney’s Office detectives served search warrants and seized voluminous records from labs and offices.
From 1987 to 2017, according to the Letizia indictment, AMA used fewer panelists than promised in clinical trials. Then he and employees, acting under his direction, allegedly gave clients false and misleading information about test results.
Winne, Mayya Tatsene, clinical laboratory director; Patrycja Wojtowicz, associate director of clinical studies; and Kaitlyn Gold, supervising laboratory technician, have pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges.
AMA investigated itself after the law enforcement raids, according to a company press release, and fired two-thirds of its staff when testing discrepancies were uncovered. The company sued several former employees in Westchester Supreme Court in 2017, blaming them for the scheme.
Winne responded in a court filing that Letizia had “arrogated for himself” money that was falsely allocated to nonexistent panelists. The clients, not AMA, he said, were the victims.
The lawsuit is pending.
The press release also states that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration routinely audited the company from 1987 through 2017, the years covered by the indictment, and “found no hint of dishonesty.”
The FDA, FBI and Rockland County District Attorney’s Office collaborated in the criminal investigation, Berman said. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey C. Coffman, James McMahon and Olga Zverovich are in charge of the prosecution.