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'Diet Queen to the Stars' fined for drug tied to NFL suspensions

Socialite Nikki Haskell exits the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Lower Manhattan

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Socialite Nikki Haskell exits the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Lower …

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A socialite who billed herself as "Diet Queen to the Stars" was fined $60,000 on Friday by a U.S. magistrate judge for drug misbranding of a weight-loss supplement that was linked to suspensions of several NFL players in 2008.

Nikki Haskell and her defunct company, Balanced Health Products Inc, were sentenced by a federal magistrate judge in Manhattan after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge related to the sale of a pill called StarCaps. [ID:nL1N0MN1TP]

Prosecutors had sought a $100,000 fine. Haskell, 73, also faced up to six months in prison under a plea agreement announced in March.

"I am so remorseful for this," she told the judge. "It was never my intent to do anything inappropriate my entire life."

A onetime television show host, Haskell has occasionally appeared in the New York Post's Page Six gossip column. Billing herself the "Diet Queen to the Stars," she was the chief executive of Balanced Health, which marketed StarCaps as an "all natural diet supplement" containing papaya and garlic.

But in 2008, the company voluntarily recalled StarCaps citing the presence of bumetanide, which is used to treat heart failure, renal failure and high blood pressure and that also carries health risks including fluid and electrolyte loss.

Bumetanide is also banned by several sports organizations including the National Football League as a potential steroid-masking agent.

Haskell during the hearing said she was "completely unaware" StarCaps, which was manufactured in Peru, had bumetanide it, adding she had "never even heard of the product until I heard these football players were using it."

"I'm still to this day shocked anything was in it," she said.

The NFL cited StarCaps in 2008 in announcing four-game suspensions to six players on the New Orleans Saints, Houston Texans and Minnesota Vikings who tested positive for banned substances.

That year, two other players, Jamar Nesbit of the Atlanta Falcons and Grady Jackson of the Saints, sued Haskell and her company after receiving four-game suspensions because they tested positive for bumetanide.

Haskell subsequently filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2010, listing potential multimillion-dollar claims by the NFL, players and teams including the Saints, Vikings, Falcons and Texans.

Ahead of Friday's hearing, Nesbit sent a letter to U.S. Magistrate Judge Netburn seeking as part of the sentence what Chris Manicini, Haskell's lawyer, described as a "shocking amount of money." A lawyer for Nesbit did not respond to a request for comment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robin Morey said the NFL, meanwhile, had been aware since 2006 that StarCaps contained bumetanide, but did not tell anyone.

Morey called the NFL's lack of legal obligation to inform the U.S. Food and Drug Administration "unfortunate," though she said the government found no evidence anyone was injured taking StarCaps.

Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the NFL, declined comment.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

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