The owner of a La Puente boutique was fined $7,300 and sentenced to a year of probation Tuesday for selling contact lenses as beauty accessories without the required prescriptions.
Kathy Hwang, 52, of Chino Hills, was sentenced immediately after pleading guilty to the misdemeanor violation of the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, in Los Angeles federal court.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Bettinelli told the court that three of four pairs of contact lenses Hwang sold to an undercover agent last August at her Fashion 20 store were contaminated with several dangerous pathogens that can cause eye injury, blindness and loss of the eye.
“In some ways, this is a relatively serious offense,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Wistrich said prior to imposing sentence, adding that a more severe penalty could be justified.
However, based on the defendant’s contrition, demeanor and statements to the court, the probationary sentence was adequate, he said, issuing the sentence detailed in a plea agreement.
Hwang was charged last October along with the owners of other businesses across the Southland with selling “misbranded” contact lenses because they were sold without prescriptions.
The products were marketed as Halloween and beauty accessories under names such as Wonder Look, Red Rose, Black & White, Beauty World and Crazy Eagle.
“Contact lenses that fit the eye poorly could cause eye damage, including scratches on the cornea, corneal infection, conjunctivitis, decreased vision and blindness,” according to court documents. “Under California law, a California resident retailer could only sell and/or dispense contact lenses if the retailer was a licensed physician or surgeon, licensed optometrist, registered dispensing optician, or a pharmacist.”
The cases were the result of operation “Fright Night,” which targeted retail stores, some of which sold Halloween costumes and accessories.
Bettinelli said that the packaging of the Korean-made lenses sold by Hwang was clearly marked with a notice indicating a prescription was required. The lenses promise to change the eye color of the wearer to turquoise, “blue sapphire” or “misty green,” the prosecutor said.
In a statement to the court, delivered with the help of a Korean- language translator, Hwang insisted she had no knowledge of the illegality of selling the lenses without a prescription. She promised never again to sell contact lenses at her store.
“It’s still a crime even though I did not know I was doing something wrong,” she said. “My knowledge about the law is limited.”
The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the state Department of Public Health and other agencies.
Contact lenses — whether corrective, cosmetic or decorative — are considered to be prescription medical devices subject to FDA regulations. Due to the risk of injury, blindness and possible eye infection, all contact lenses require prescriptions from medical professionals who can provide guidance on proper care and maintenance.
Improper sale of the lenses, Bettinelli said, poses “a unique public safety and health issue.”
State health officials have warned consumers against using decorative contact lenses without first consulting with an eye care professional.
— Wire reports
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