He's been convicted of mail fraud. Investigated for money laundering. He's bumped through a bankruptcy, a nasty divorce, lawsuits and several relocations of his corporate headquarters.
Through it all, Almon Glenn Braswell has kept on doing what he does best: selling herbal remedies that he claims can push back aging, sharpen mental acuity, boost sexual performance and relieve conditions ranging from arthritis to enlarged prostates.
Braswell has made millions of dollars in the mail-order health business, many millions, many times over. His legal woes have forced him to start fresh more than once, but he has persevered and succeeded.
He was successful too at securing a pardon from former President Clinton last month--after paying Clinton's brother-in-law Hugh Rodham $200,000 in lobbying fees. Rodham since has returned the money. But the pardon stands: It wipes clean Braswell's 1983 conviction for perjury and mail fraud--crimes for which he spent seven months in federal prison.
It does not, however, end the ongoing controversy about Braswell and his products.
A Long List of Controversies
Over the last 25 years, Braswell has been caught up in flap after flap:
* The Food and Drug Administration has ordered some of his products seized as potentially dangerous.
* Federal prosecutors have accused him of a running a huge tax evasion scheme through offshore accounts.
* The Florida Republican Party and President Bush, stung by revelations of Braswell's criminal record, have returned $250,000 of his donations.
* And Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has, through a spokeswoman, denounced Braswell's products as "snake oil." Bush wrote an article on health care for Braswell's Journal of Longevity last year, reportedly in response to requests relayed to the governor's staff through a GOP fund-raiser and a top Miami lobbyist. Bush later complained that the journal's editors had altered his text to make it seem as though he was promoting alternative therapies such as Braswell's health care products.
As these controversies and others have swirled around him, Braswell, 57, has remained silent.
He is again refusing comment these days.
And those who know him say that's entirely in character: While he may make bold claims for his products, he is by nature retiring.
"He's very quiet, very reserved, not flashy," said David Ettman, a Miami consultant who has known him for three years. Though Braswell clearly is rich, he doesn't flaunt it, Ettman and others said: He owns nice houses and a nice fishing boat but otherwise seems more interested in his business and his toddler son than in spending money.
"He's a shorts-and-sneakers kind of guy," Ettman said. "Very down to earth."
Braswell has a track record of hiring well-connected lobbyists when he needs something done, be it securing a presidential pardon or getting permission to chop down 428 mangrove trees blocking the view from his Florida home. But he is not himself a wheeler-dealer. In fact, he tries to stay out of the spotlight--and to say as little as possible in public. (When he was deposed last fall for a civil lawsuit against him, he invoked his 5th Amendment privilege and declined to respond 196 times.)
Although he has been generous in support of the Republican Party, Braswell has shown little desire to be a political mover. Instead, he's focused on building his mail-order therapy business, Gero Vita International, already one of the biggest in the country.
Gero Vita's products are ordered through a Canadian address, but most are packaged and shipped in the United States.
"I think he really believes in his product," said Dr. Jay Gordon, a Santa Monica pediatrician who wrote several articles on alternative health care for Braswell's journal. "In all my dealings with him, he seemed like a good and honorable person. . . . He seemed to really believe he has herbal cures that work."
His critics, however, are not nearly as confident.
His 1983 federal conviction stemmed from misleading advertisements--complete with faked "before" and "after" photos--touting one of his lotions as a cure for baldness and another therapy as a remedy for cellulite.
His Business Dealings Under Investigation
The Council of Better Business Bureaus accused Braswell in 1995 of exaggerating claims for an anti-aging pill.
And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has blocked some of his products from entering the country, calling them unapproved drugs rather than nutritional supplements.
Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Service is investigating Gero Vita and another of Braswell's companies, G.B. Data Systems, for allegedly evading corporate income taxes. The presidential pardon does not affect that probe.
In addition to the federal investigation, Braswell also is battling a civil lawsuit filed by three sports stars--including baseball player Stan Musial--who accuse him of illegally using their pictures to tout a herbal remedy for prostate problems.
Braswell has bounced back from such troubles before.