Some Notes on the Activities of Joanne Garneau
Stephen Barrett, M.D.
In the late 1990s, I became concerned about companies that offered elaborate programs to boost the sale of dietary supplements, and herbal and homeopathic products through pharmacies. One such company was The JAG Group of San Clemente, California, which advertised a comprehensive program through which pharmacists could market dietary supplements and herbal and homeopathic products to their customers. In 2002, the JAG Web site (www.jagenterprises.com) gave the following history:
Joanne Garneau, founder of the JAG Group, has been involved in healthcare delivery systems since 1974. As Regional Vice President of Sales, she advanced the computerization of pharmacy with Texas based PharmAssist until 1984. She then moved on to form her own company, JAG Enterprises, distributing pharmacy software in the western United States. In 1988, as major changes began taking place in the pharmacy industry, she saw the need for pharmacists to respond to increasing third party involvement (decreasing prescription profits) by providing consultation on pricing formularies and other niche areas. One of those niche areas was the emerging self-care market of nutraceuticals.
As the JAG Group evolved, it became increasingly clear that a new healthcare category was emerging, integrative medicine. As patients continued to move toward self-care, traditional allopathic medicine faced a difficult challenge: to provide quality patient care and disease management that incorporates the patient's increased use of alternative or natural products. The JAG Group positioned itself to become the leader in this exploding new field by providing the healthcare community with innovative solutions to meet these challenges through education, training, software, technology and unique products. . . .
National exposure for JAG occurred when Ms. Garneau was interviewed by Natural Pharmacy Magazine in October of 1996, resulting in calls flooding in from pharmacies all over the U.S. and Canada. JAG's first major 'Jumpstart' training was held in Austin, TX in December of 1996 for 15 pharmacies. The JAG Group was incorporated in February of 1997 and today provides support for hundreds of satisfied, profitable healthcare practitioner customers.
Through articles, ads, and its Web site, The JAG Group program offered the following:
- Profit margins greater than those for prescription drugs.
- Product lines that typically produce a 100% markup or more.
- A 3-day seminar covering "the importance of wellness" and how to "use natural products to prevent and/or improve chronic disease states."
- WellStore Software designed as a sales and marketing tool to: (a) capture customer information, including email address, (b) categorize products to market directly to customer needs, (c) provide thank you notes to encourage loyalty, (d) provide product information to print for customers, and (e) track patient health histories to create fee-for-service revenue.
- Pharmacist PlusTMSoftware with causes, signs and symptoms of 223 common ailments and specific dietary, homeopathic and herbal recommendations.
- Drug Depletion Software telling "what supplements patients need to replace vital nutrients that are depleted by many of the prescription drugs they are taking."
- Nutritional Analysis Software (an electronic nutritionist) to allow the pharmacist to charge a fee for providing consultations to patients—including assessment of "nutritional needs that best fit your patient's gender, age, lifestyle, analysis of food intake and identification of nutritional deficiencies" and "recommendations for optimum nutrient levels to maintain good health."
- A TV commercial, radio spots, newspaper and yellow page ads, doctor letters, and a column that can be published under the pharmacist's own name.
- A personalized Internet web page, which adds the pharmacist to a list of "complementary and natural healthcare practitioners worldwide" that so that "when someone searches for a natural healthcare practitioner, they will find you."
- An in-store display unit designed to let customers see a variety of products, books and services in one place.
- Answers to questions needed "when a customer is standing in front of you" or when "you want to know about a new fad or product your customer just asked you about."
- "The best experts in the fields of pharmacy, natural products and complementary medicine available" by picking up the phone or accessing the Internet.
I thought that this program was appalling because (a) few common ailments can be helped with dietary supplements or herbal products, (b) nutrient depletion related to drug use is not common, (c) homeopathic products are worthless , (d) pharmacists are not qualified or legally permitted to be "natural healthcare practitioners, and (e) recommending products for hundreds of ailments would be outside the scope of pharmacy practice, constitute the illegal practice of medicine, and violate state laws against theft by deception. Nevertheless, near the end of 1999, Garneau said that nearly 500 pharmacies had been enrolled .
Postings to the Internet Archive suggest that the JAG group Web site became inactive toward the end of 2002. At about that time, however, Garneau teamed up with Hasnain Walji, Ph.D. to operate Integrative Quest Marketing, which offered pharmacists "complete healthcare marketing system" that included a customized Web site, e-mail marketing, product handouts, and a patient newsletter, all of which promoted dietary supplements and herbal and homeopathic products. Integrative Quest's Web site remained active until recently, when its Internet service provider suspended it.
In 2004, Garneau became chief operating officer of Nationwide Support Services, a company that promised to help people reduce their credit card debt. In 2006, the Federal Trade Commission charged Nationwide and four interrelated debt-reduction companies with deceptive practices and obtained a temporary restraining order. The FTC's memorandum indicated that the business had been started by Wade Torkelson (Garneau's son) and Dennis Connelly, who had served 33 months in prison and had also been targeted by the FTC in connection with fraudulent telemarketing of copier toner . The order also applied individually to Garneau, doing business as Prosper Financial Solutions. In 2007, without admitting fault, Garneau and Prosper settled the FTC's complaint by agreeing to pay $630,000 and to refrain from making false representations or material omissions in their future sales processes . In 2009, the Illinois Attorney General charged Nationwide Support Services with engaging in deceptive practices . The Better Business Bureau, which has received 49 complaints against the company, has given it an "F" rating and summarizes the complaints this way:
This company has a pattern of serious complaints alleging misrepresentation of offered services, inadequate disclosures concerning fees associated with the service, and inability to obtain refunds when services were not provided as agreed. Most complainants allege unfulfilled contracts, and misrepresentation regarding the company's ability to assist in resolving credit problems. Some customers complain the company deducted thousands of dollars from bank accounts for the purpose of paying creditors, but failed to make the payments as agreed. Other complainants contend after waiting for extended periods of time, the company failed to negotiate with any creditors, and that after subscribing to the company's services, their credit situation became considerably worse than before. Most complainants request refunds. The company responds to some complaints by advising complainants that their account was being serviced for free, as the complainant had originally contracted with another debt relief company. The company denies most refund requests, claiming they had not collected service fees, and any money paid to third party debt relief services was considered lost in abandonment. In other cases, the company denied allegations of unfulfilled contracts, and accused the complainant of failing to comply with program requirements. In some cases they claimed that funds paid by complainants were being retained as service fees. Some complaints are unresolved meaning the company failed to properly address the complaint allegations or their response was inadequate .
Not a pretty picture.
- Barrett S. Homeopathy: The ultimate fake. Quackwatch, Aug 23, 2009.
- Garneau J. Interview in Havlick DH. Tomorrow's pharmacy today according to JAG. Natural Pharmacy 3(6):1,20-21, 1999.
- FTC v Dennis Connelly, et al. Memorandum of points and authorities in support of plaintiff's ex pate application for temporary restraining order, etc. U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Filed Aug 2, 2005.
- Settlement agreement and stipulated final order as to defendant Joanne Garneau a/k/a/ Joann Torkelson and defendant Robina Capital Inc., d.b.a. Prosper Financial Solutions. U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Southern Division, Case No. SACV 06-701 (DOC (RNB), filed Feb. 23, 2007.
- Attorney General Madigan sues two debt settlement firms. Illinois Attorney General press release, May 4, 2009.
- BBB business review of Nationwide Support Services, accessed June 13, 2011.
This article was posted on June 13, 2011.