Lanny Davis and Metabolife
My Rolling Stone piece on Michael Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis, who also represents a high-level Russian Mafia associate, is up. You can read it here.
[Apologies for repeating this post a second time, but after I posted an earlier draft, I realized, as I often do, that this might be something worth publishing.]
I’ve been aware of Davis for a long time, ever since his days representing a sleazy San Diego firm called Metabolife.
Metabolife was founded in 1995 by a man named Michael Ellis, an ex-cop who had a felony record for a meth lab bust in the San Diego suburb of Rancho Santa Fe. While on probation, Ellis had a brilliant idea. He realized that, thanks to a loophole in the law, he could sell speed legally. Thus was born Metabolife.
Metabolife’s pills contained ephedra, the herbal form of the stimulant ephedrine, which is a key ingredient in methamphetamine. It was legal to sell ephedra at the time, thanks to a law sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, who dabbled in the vitamin business as a young man.
Hatch’s law deregulated the dietary supplements industry. Dietary supplement makers no longer had to show their products were safe. Under the law, Metabolife had no duty to report even the deaths of its customers.
Sales took off. Revenues at privately-held Metabolife had soared to more than $360 million in four years, but the company had a problem: People who gobbled its pills sometimes wound up in the hospital — or worse. One user’s heart rate zoomed to 300 beats a minute. Some turned into psychotic speed freaks. A Government Accounting Office report found Metabolife’s pills caused 18 heart attacks, 26 strokes, 43 seizures and five deaths.
When Congress started to investigate whether Ellis“put sales above safety,” Metabolife hired Lanny Davis, who was then with the DC powerhouse firm of Patton Boggs. (Interestingly, Cohen worked for the same firm, now known as Squire Patton Boggs, after Trump’s election.)
I wrote a story for The Associated Press in 2004 pointing all this out:
“Patton Boggs earned millions helping project reassurances to Congress and its customers that Metabolife products were safe,” I wrote. “In mid 2002, Patton Boggs lobbyist Lanny Davis wrote a senator whose subcommittee was investigating Metabolife that the company had received only 78 ‘unproven, anecdotal allegations’ of strokes, heart attacks, seizures and deaths.”
Prosecutors alleged company founder Michael Ellis lied about Metabolife’s safety record in a 1998 letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which Patton Boggs attorneys helped him draft. (One former and four current Patton Boggs attorneys were subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in San Diego. A judge ruled they had to testify.)
Here’s a snippet of the FDA letter:
That wasn’t true. The FDA finally banned sales of ephedra in 2004, saying it was linked to 155 deaths, including 23-year-old Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler. Ellis was eventually convicted of lying to the FDA; Metabolife pleaded guilty to tax evasion.
The conclusion is this: Davis and Patton Boggs helped Metabolife as it covered up a health crisis. Before I get a nasty letter from Mr. Davis, let me say that there’s no evidence that he did anything wrong or acted unprofessionally. But credibility matters, and after years of representing shady clients, Davis’ may find his credibility in short supply when he needs it most.