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    printer version

    Bush brothers pop up in potion peddler's magazine

    Gov. Jeb Bush bylined an article for the journal about alternative medicine after a fundraiser by the owner, who's also a felon.

    By LUCY MORGAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 29, 2000


    Over the past two years, A. Glenn Braswell has donated thousands of dollars to the Florida Republican Party and George W. Bush.

    In July, he got a nice boost from Gov. Jeb Bush.

    Prodded by a fundraiser for the Bush brothers, Jeb Bush wrote an article for Braswell's alternative health magazine, Journal of Longevity, that talked about alternative medicine, senior citizens and the upcoming elections. The magazine published Bush's article in July with a picture of the two smiling Bush brothers.

    It turns out that Braswell is a convicted felon who has earned millions of dollars selling questionable pills and potions that claim to cure baldness, prostate cancer, arthritis, heart disease and other ailments. The GOP says it didn't check him out before taking his money.

    Bush says he knew Braswell only as a South Florida millionaire who has donated money to the GOP. Braswell and his companies gave a total of $150,000 to the Florida GOP, another $25,000 to a Texas campaign committee for George W. Bush, and an additional $80,000 to other Republican campaigns since mid-1990s.

    "I met him briefly at a fundraising event," Bush said when asked about Braswell earlier this month. "I don't know much about him."

    Aides to the governor say the article was prepared by his policy staff after they talked with the editor of the magazine.

    Bush's policy advisers also got a call urging them to do the article from Ann Herberger, a Miami woman who is in charge of raising money for George W. Bush's presidential campaign. Herberger also served as finance director for Jeb Bush's campaign for governor in 1998 and headed up inaugural plans. Herberger did not return repeated telephone calls to discuss the situation.

    As submitted, Bush's article sounded like standard fare: He cited health care as a top priority issue for candidates and voters. The article was aimed at senior citizens.

    But the published article contained a call for alternative medical therapies like acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine and "a full array of nutrients: the vitamins and minerals that tend to become depleted with age as well as the herbs and other natural substances that can relieve chronic disorders."

    In sum, it appeared that Bush was endorsing the products sold by Braswell's controversial company: Gero Vita International.

    Now Bush says significant passages were added to the article. He did suggest "the best of alternative medicine" as a help for those with chronic disease, but he didn't endorse acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine or the "full array of nutrients."

    All of that was added by the folks at the magazine. On Aug. 23, after the Times began asking questions, the magazine's editor wrote a letter of apology, saying the published article "was not the version approved by Gov. Bush."

    "The governor has not endorsed Braswell's stuff," Bush communications director Justin Sayfie said. "They inserted some stuff in the article that made it appear that way."

    But why did the Florida Republican Party and the George W. Bush campaign accept $175,000 from a convicted felon?

    Florida Republican Party Chairman Al Cardenas says no political party has an investigative unit that tries to figure out who's who.

    "We rely on the folks who are raising money," Cardenas said. "Our understanding was that this was a businessman in good standing and we accepted his contribution."

    Once questions were raised by the Times and the governor's office complained about the use of the article, Cardenas said he decided against accepting any additional contributions from Braswell.

    Cardenas would not say how much money was declined.

    "I made the decision to do that until we know more about the matter," Cardenas said.

    Cardenas said he has not seen any information that would justify returning the money the party already accepted.

    Despite his generous contributions, some of the state's best known Republicans say they don't know Braswell personally or have never heard of him.

    Former Republican Party Chairman Tom Slade said he has never heard of Braswell. Cardenas, a Miami lawyer who is the current party chairman, says he has met Braswell only briefly at fundraisers. He said Braswell's name was given to him by Rodney Barreto, a Miami lobbyist.

    Neither Braswell or Barreto returned the Times' telephone calls.

    In 1999 Barreto represented Braswell in a neighborhood fight that broke out when Braswell sought permission to cut down 428 trees inside a mangrove cluster to improve the view from his house on a 7-acre tract that overlooks Biscayne Bay.

    The Bush brothers are not the first to feel a little used by Braswell.

    In South Carolina, three famous sports figures, Richard Petty, Stan Musial and Len Dawson, have filed suit in federal court against Braswell and Gero Vita for misusing their names in advertisements for Prostata, a so-called prostate cancer cure.

    The lawsuits, filed in 1997 by Charleston lawyers E. Vernon Glenn and Gedney M. Howe III, involve a series of advertisements that identify the three sports figures among a group of men who "waited too long and are suffering" from prostate problems.

    The lawsuits, scheduled for trial in November, accuse Braswell, the magazine and his companies of defamation, invasion of privacy, unfair trade practices and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.

    "During the past 25 years, he (Braswell) has probably taken in more money and more people than any similar marketer in U.S. history," writes Dr. Stephen Barrett, a retired psychiatrist who runs Quackwatch.com, a Web site that keeps an eye on medical fraud.

    Quackwatch cites the Bush article and questions the connections between the two Bush brothers and Braswell, who has frequently been in trouble with federal authorities looking at the sale of drugs and dietary supplements.

    Braswell, 57, is no stranger to trouble. In 1983 he was sentenced in Atlanta to spend three years in federal prison for mail fraud and perjury charges stemming from his sale of Bio-Genesis, a supposed cure for baldness, and Formula 12, a substance that was supposed to remove cellulite.

    Braswell was accused of using bogus before and after pictures to support his products. At sentencing, Braswell was described as nearly broke and in need of treatment for addiction to drugs and alcohol. He was permanently barred from using the claim that his products could cure or prevent baldness.

    A report published in the Atlanta Constitution in 1983 said Braswell's legal troubles forced him to sell his mansion in the Buckhead area to pay his debts. His lawyers said he would be lucky to keep one of his three residences.

    In 1984 while he was serving his federal prison sentence, Braswell entered a no contest plea to a grand theft charge stemming from a burglary arrest at a home he was renting to a former employee in Fort Lauderdale. He was put on probation for two years to run concurrently with his federal sentence.

    The Fort Lauderdale home Braswell bought in 1979 was sold at auction by a bankruptcy trustee in 1986 for $700,000.

    Braswell spent a year or so in St. Petersburg in 1984 where he started yet another mail order vitamin business. In a sworn statement taken in a California lawsuit earlier this year, Braswell said the business lasted about six months. Then he moved to California and started Gero Vita International.

    Instead of promising to cure baldness, Braswell's companies began promising to add years to the lives of elderly Americans facing the diseases of old age.

    And Braswell began donating money to Republican candidates in California and Utah's Sen. Orrin Hatch in 1995 and 1996. In early 1998 he started giving money to the state GOP with a $25,000 contribution.

    In addition to his past trouble with the law and a variety of civil suits, Braswell has also run into problems with the Food and Drug Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, postal authorities and the Federal Trade Commission. Earlier this year the FDA identified several of Gero Vita's products as potentially dangerous and ordered them detained at any U.S. border.

    Gero Vita's sales are solicited from a Toronto address and merchandise is shipped from Marina Del Ray, Calif. Gero Vita advertising claims that its medications are produced at plants "such as this modern facility in Italy."

    The Journal of Longevity is headquartered in Las Vegas and Braswell reportedly has homes in Coconut Grove and Marina Del Ray. The magazine is given free to those who buy Gero Vita products.

    In 1982, Braswell divorced Susan P. Brown, a woman he married in July 1981 in Fort Lauderdale.

    Last year he filed suit to dissolve his marriage to his wife, Renee, and has agreed to pay her $42-million as part of a property settlement filed in Circuit Court in Miami-Dade County earlier this year.

    Although divorced in May, the Braswells are continuing to fight over access to their 2-year-old son, A. Glenn Braswell Jr. A judge in Miami has sealed much of the divorce file at Braswell's request after his wife accused him of having drug and alcohol problems and he accused her of spending too much time with another man.

    On Jan. 18, Braswell and a female companion, Jocelyn Leigh Miller, 22, were dining at the Delano Hotel's sushi bar in Miami Beach when Mrs. Braswell, 43, spotted them and socked Miller in the nose. The blow knocked Miller's red cowboy hat off of her head and led to battery charges against Mrs. Braswell.

    She was also charged with hitting a limo driver in the face earlier the same day as Braswell and Miller returned the child and his nanny to the gates of the Coconut Grove mansion.

    Earlier this year Mrs. Braswell was allowed to enter a pretrial intervention program in lieu of prosecution. The charges will be dismissed if she is not accused of another crime for a year.

    Efforts to reach Braswell were unsuccessful. Maurice J. Kutner, the lawyer handling Braswell's divorce in Miami, referred questions to Stewart Shay at GB Data Systems, the company that handles Braswell's Marina Del Ray business.

    Shay did not return repeated calls.

    A man who identified himself as customer service supervisor for the magazine in Nevada said he did not know Braswell and declined to answer questions about the magazine or its products.

    "I'm not aware of any FDA order," said Rob Hayes. "We're still in business and still shipping out products."

    -- Researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.

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    From the Times state desk