James Boccuzzi is Not a Rat: Prison Time and His Blackstone Story

James Boccuzzi is Not a Rat: Prison Time and His Blackstone Story

It’s the story everyone’s been waiting for. James Boccuzzi joins The PricePlow Podcast to explain his side of the story in the 2019 Blackstone Labs indictments,[1,2] where he was found guilty for conspiring to defraud the FDA[3] and spent a bit over a year in prison after a 51-month sentence.[4]

James Boccuzzi on the PricePlow Podcast

James Boccuzzi is not a rat! Boca James joins the PricePlow to tell his side of the story after serving 15 months in prison after the Blackstone Labs raid and indictments. This is quite the interesting episode, which answers a few questions… including a cheerful story likening Aaron Singerman to ‘The Godfather’ when in prison.

James is now out, and came on to PricePlow to tell his side of the story and get re-settled into the supplement industry.

“Boca James” first talks about his background, which includes employment at iForce Nutrition, USPLabs and more. But it’s the mania during the Blackstone Labs heyday that everyone’s here to listen to, and James explains the situation from his perspective as a salesman.

It’s a long discussion with many worthy moments, including a cheerful story about how Aaron Singerman had him treated well in prison, likening it to “The Godfather” movie series.

The most interesting part of this? James was the only one of six indicted who did not plead guilty. You’ll need to listen to the story – this apparently got him some ‘cred’ in prison.

We’re excited to have James back in the fold. Now buckle up, listen on your favorite platform, and don’t forget to leave us a good review on iTunes:

  • 0:00 – Introductions

    On Episode #126 of the PricePlow Podcast, Mike and Ben welcome James Boccuzzi, known for his significant contributions to the supplement industry through roles at iForce Nutrition, USP Labs, and of course Blackstone Labs, amidst a backdrop of controversy including his indictment while on the Blackstone Labs sales team.

    Boca on Da Brand

    You can find James on Instagram: @BocaOnDaBrand

    James shares his extensive experience, highlighting his journey from sales and marketing to consultancy and his impact on the retail space, notably through the introduction of limited edition products and unique branding that have become widespread trends.

    His work with various companies like Redcon1 and Steel Supplements, and his involvement in launching brands like Myoblox, Black Magic, and Chemix, showcased his innovative approach to supplement marketing. Despite legal challenges, James reflects on his legacy of bringing creativity and differentiation to the supplement industry, emphasizing the positive reception of his contributions in retail environments.

  • 8:30 – USP Labs

    James discusses his time at USP Labs during the launch of the iconic supplement Jack3d, originally named “Jacked” before a name change due to trademark issues. He highlights the company’s impressive organization, strict training on compliance with regulations, and emphasis on professional conduct, which contrasts with the public perception of USP Labs stemming from legal troubles, which ended in a 2015 indictment of its own.[5]

    James Boccuzzi USPLabs

    Who else remembers those monster red 3-in-1 shaker cups from USPLabs?

    Interestingly, these troubles were not directly related to Jack3d but rather to issues with another product, OxyELITE Pro, particularly a version that caused liver toxicity issues, mostly noted in Hawaii. James mentions the high possibility of knockoff products being involved in these issues, emphasizing the massive scale of USP Labs’ success at the time and the extensive market counterfeit products.

  • 15:15 – Blackstone Labs Booming

    James recounts his transition from USP Labs to iForce Nutrition and eventually to Blackstone Labs, where he thrived in a sales role, leveraging direct sales strategies not widely used in the industry at that time. His success in sales led to substantial commissions, highlighting a pivotal shift in supplement sales towards direct consumer engagement.

    James’ journey is marked by his move to Florida to continue his work with Blackstone Labs, amidst the company’s rapid growth and the introduction of new products and marketing strategies. Despite the eventual legal challenges faced by Blackstone Labs, James emphasizes his focus on sales and customer engagement, distancing himself from the product formulation and compliance aspects, which were managed by others within the company. Those who know James understand that he’s a sales machine – and he takes care of his customers and maintains positive communication better than almost anyone in the industry.

    The discussion also touches on the impact of social media on Blackstone Labs’ success, illustrating the changing landscape of supplement marketing and sales.

  • 30:00 – The Raid

    James recounts the dramatic raid on their offices by federal agents in early 2017. This raid marked the government’s initial active involvement with Blackstone. Boccuzzi, present during the raid, described the scene as traumatic, especially for the women and younger staff members. He was interviewed by the agents, where he attempted to clarify the legal status of certain products based on his understanding at the time.

    At this point, Mike brings up a funny but insightful video of two lawyers who remind you that it’s Shut the F*** up Friday, which quickly became a popular meme.

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    James reflects on the confusion and lack of clear guidance regarding the legality of certain ingredients in dietary supplements, highlighting the distinction between an ingredient being de-facto “illegal” versus its potential legality in a dietary supplement. He re-emphasizes his lack of involvement in compliance or legal discussions, focusing solely on sales and the marketing aspects of the products.

    James Boccuzzi Blackstone Labs

    The conversation also touches on the industry’s misunderstanding of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA)[6] and the complex legal landscape surrounding supplement ingredients, revealing a broader issue of education and awareness within the supplement industry about what constitutes a legal dietary supplement ingredient.

  • 42:30 – To cooperate or not?

    James discusses the complexities and confusion surrounding the legality of certain ingredients in the supplement industry, emphasizing the importance of legal knowledge and compliance. The discussion highlights the Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2014 (DASCA)[7] and the ambiguity in the law regarding what constitutes a legal dietary supplement ingredient.

    Despite his intention to cooperate with the authorities based on his understanding of the legality of the products he was selling, James was advised by his lawyer not to cooperate in order to avoid potential self-incrimination. Almost two years after leaving Blackstone Labs due to concerns over its disorganization, James received a target letter from the FDA while working for Redcon1.

    Boccuzzi recounts a particular incident where he unknowingly facilitated the creation of a document that falsely impersonated an FDA agent to assist with the exportation of products, an action that he later regretted.

  • 50:00 – Leading up to trial

    James Boccuzzi and the Guerrilla Chemist

    James was a key player in launching Chemix with The Guerrilla Chemist

    Leading up to the trial in early 2019, James states that he, alongside other employees and associates of Blackstone, were initially told they would collectively fight the charges, hoping that he, as merely an employee, would not be held accountable. Despite these reassurances, one by one, other indicted individuals, including Robert DiMaggio and later Aaron Singerman and PJ Braun, pleaded guilty and cooperated with authorities.[8-10]

    Maintaining his innocence and believing in the legality of his actions based on information provided to him, James chose not to plead guilty, becoming the only one from the group to take this stance.

    As the case progressed, James realized that the defense strategy might not have been in his personal best interest, particularly after learning that the defense attorney (who was provided to him and he did not pay for), might not have been fully aligned with protecting his personal interests. This realization came too late for him to change his legal representation before the trial. Despite having evidence and witnesses that could potentially exonerate him, Boccuzzi’s lawyer did not have time to present these in court, leaving him at a disadvantage.

  • 1:06:00 – The Trial

    James was the sole defendant in a trial in which others had already pleaded guilty or cooperated with the prosecution. The evidence presented against him included out-of-context personal emails, jokes, and a decade-old resume, all in an effort to demonstrate his scientific knowledge of the products’ illegality.

    James Boccuzzi Myoblox

    Similarly, James was a major part of Myoblox’s launch

    This approach by the prosecution underscores the sheer level of scrutiny applied to any and all communications of the defendant, regardless of relevance or intent. According to James, during the trial, the prosecution attempted to charge James with bodily injury being inflicted upon a consumer after using a product (Alpha-1 MAX) that James had sold to a retailer, despite a total lack of evidence and no adverse event report filed through the FDA’s own reporting system (that we’re aware of).

  • 1:23:00 – Understanding your legal risks

    In essence, James was held accountable for the products sold by Blackstone Labs, even though he did not formulate or source them. This accountability extended to products he sold, marketing strategies he claims to have been uninvolved with, and potential adverse events with customers he had no direct involvement with. This suggests potentially vast and wide-reaching repercussions for employees of companies that may not fully understand regulatory compliance.

    The discussion highlights the extreme importance for brands to ensure all their I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed when it comes to regulatory and legal concerns.

  • 1:29:30 – Conviction and Prison

    After his two week trial, James was found guilty. After he was sentenced in late March, James bumped into Joey (Anthony Ventrella) before he was transferred to the same prison (Pensacola) as Aaron Singerman, who he saw every day. When James was released on house arrest, at which point he had to do regular check-ins at the halfway house for nine months, where he often saw PJ. PJ actually apologized to James for getting caught up in it.

    James notes that one thing he appreciated about Blackstone and Aaron was his ability to back you up and boost your self-esteem. For those first few years, James really enjoyed working with the team there, and he doesn’t think their intention was to put him in a bad position.

  • 1:34:30 – Prison Time and Aaron Singerman as “The Godfather”

    James Boccuzzi Straight Outta...

    James says that Aaron Singerman was famous in prison. His first night at Pensacola, the guys in the kitchen come up to James and give him a bunch of food “from Aaron”. James humorously compares it to The Godfather.

    For James, prison was actually a relief. Before he got to his destination, he was in 14 different facilities (including a mental facility for 2 months, presumably due to a clerical error), so by the time he was settled in Pensacola, it felt like a weight off his shoulders. All of his responsibilities were taken away – his days were composed of reading and relaxation.

    James notes that other prisoners use contraband devices to connect with the outside world and learn everything about new inmates – a process which led to it being common knowledge that James wasn’t “a rat”, which lent him some favor and credibility. James was in prison for 15 months (after a 51 month sentencing), and was treated incredibly well.

  • 1:40:00 – Prison was… fun?!

    RDAP is the Residential Drug Abuse Program. If you complete the course, it takes a year off your sentence. Ben notes that basically everyone involved in this case were released early, and asks why that is. James notes that there are a lot of programs like RDAP and the First Step Act that help low level offenders reduce their sentences. Once James reached 18 months of time served, he was released on house arrest as part of the COVID early release program.

    James Boccuzzi Guerrilla Chemist

    Ben asks James if the people that did cooperate were treated poorly, and James says it was more about the level of respect in prison afforded to those that didn’t cooperate. James notes that the reason he didn’t cooperate was because he refused to lie and claim that PJ and Aaron knew what they were doing just to help himself.

    Most of the inmates in the camp were white collar criminals or drug dealers, but the jails had more violent offenders. Once he got to the camp, James says he had fun, joked around all day, and made friends. He felt like prison infantilizes people, so in some ways, he reverted back to being a kid again, which he found rather enjoyable to a degree.

  • 1:44:45 – Ego in the fitness industry

    James enjoys reading psychology books, and he read one every couple of days in prison. In the future, he would like to get into life and relationship coaching, and prison afforded him a lot of time to dive deeply into psychology and behavior.

    James notes that the fitness industry is tough, because a lot of people put on a facade of being incredibly confident, when in reality they are deeply insecure. There are a lot of personalities that are incredibly selfish in the industry, and James has always had an edge being in tune with his customers and their needs.

  • 1:48:30 – An eye towards the future

    James Boccuzzi on the PricePlow Podcast

    After being on house arrest until November 20, 2023, James was officially released. He no longer wears an ankle monitor and can pretty much do what he wants to do. James hasn’t been able to see his family in 5 years, and his priorities are reconnecting with his family, as well as getting some income for himself.

    Ben asks James if he has any plans. He says he’s been talking to Greg Helton at Fresh Supps about doing sales work. James notes that there are always opportunities in the supplement industry, but that he needs to come back and rebuild his footprint in the industry.

    Mike officially welcomes James back to the world, and the industry. Ben echoes Mike’s sentiments and thanks James for joining them. James notes how awesome it is to be on the podcast, because he’s never had an opportunity to tell the story in his own words.

  • A big thank you to James for telling your story on PricePlow.

    As always, subscribe to the PricePlow Podcast on your platform of choice. Leave us a great review if you enjoy it!

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