Four years ago, serial-entrepreneur Craig Zucker had a hit product on his hands: Buckyballs, desk toys comprised of supercharged mini magnets, which were flying off the shelves and into the shopping carts of fidgety-handed customers. Zucker's company, Maxfield & Oberton, had sales of $10 million in 2009.
Zucker's troubles began last year, when the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) filed an administrative complaint that sought to ban and recall the product on the grounds that it was dangerous for children. It's true that if swallowed, these powerful tiny balls can cause int
ernal bleeding because they seek to find other magnets when lodged in a person's bowels or intestinal tract. But banning the product was "statistically ridiculous," as a report in the Huffington Post explained. There were 22 reported incidents of ingested Buckeyballs from 2009 to October 2011, or one for every 100,000 sets sold. That means the product is orders of magnitude less risky than dogs, tennis, skateboarding, and poisonous household chemicals. And the product was clearly marked, "Keep Away from All Children."
Finding himself in the cross hairs of federal regulators, Craig Zucker did the opposite of pull back. He went on a publicity rampage to save Buckyballs. Zucker's company even created a poster encouraging supporters to give CPSC Chairwoman Inez Tennenbaum a ring on her "psychic hotline," a reference to how the CPSC claims to have reviewed Maxfield & Oberton's Corrective Action Plan for Buckyballs less than 24 hours after it was submitted, which the company called "plain spooky."
Within a few months, Zucker had conceded defeat. Many stores stopped carrying Buckyballs, sales plummeted, legal fees mounted, and Maxfield & Oberton was dissolved. Then in February 2013, the Consumer Product Safety
Commission added Craig Zucker to its complaint, holding him personally liable for the cost of recalling Buckyballs, which the agency claims will come to about $57 million. The case has drawn widespread attention in legal circles because it's the first time the Commission has attempted to hold a former officer personally responsible for the actions of a defunct corporation. The National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation, and the Retail Industry Leaders Association have filed a joint brief on Zucker's behalf.
Is the Consumer Product Safety Commission carrying out a personal vendetta against Craig Zucker? Reason TV Contributor Naomi Brockwell sat down with him to discuss the lawsuit and Liberty Balls, a new product that's being sold to help raise money to cover Zucker's legal fees.
Watch Reason TV's September 2012 interview with Craig Zucker, back when Buckyballs were still on the market and Maxfield & Oberton was fighting for its survival.
Approximately 7.30 minutes.
Hosted by Naomi Brockwell. Written, shot, edited and produced by Jim Epstein. Additional camera by Anthony Fisher.
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