Miami-Dade County

South Beach conman who pitched anti-aging yogurt cream gets 10 years in prison

Joseph Fox Batista, an eccentric South Beach wannabe inventor who dazzled investors with the promise of a yogurt-based cream to regrow hair and slow aging, is now a convicted conman.

A Miami-Dade jury last week convicted Fox, a self-described microbiologist, of second-degree grand theft. Fox, 59, was immediately sentenced to 10 years in prison plus five years of probation.

His conviction came three years after Fox was profiled in the Miami Herald. In a jailhouse interview, Fox insisted he never stole money, and that shadowy forces — including the hair-transplant industry — were conspiring to hold back his invention and company, Telogenesis Inc.

But investigators said Fox suckered investors into buying at least $380,000 worth of bogus stock.

“Obviously, I have to be paid. I’m the CEO of a corporation. The CEO gets at least $100,000 a year,” Fox said in 2011. “I’m actually paying myself very little — at times, nothing. I have running costs. I have to pay my rent. I have to feed myself. I’m doing the work of 1,000 people.”

At trial last week, Fox’s defense claimed the case was nothing more than a civil business dispute.

“The company is still alive and viable and holds patents on materials,” defense attorney Ira Still said.

After the guilty verdict Friday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jose L. Fernandez also ordered Fox to pay $40,000 in restitution to six investors. Fox was prosecuted by assistant state attorneys Christine Rhee and Terry Livanos.

It was not Fox’s first scheme. In California, he was convicted in 2002 of ripping off investors after peddling a machine that purported to weigh the amount of gold in any object.

More than a decade later, he moved to Florida. On the streets of South Beach, he was known for his bowl haircut and penchant for white Panama hats, guayabera shirts and sparkly dress shoes.

He began peddling his so-called anti-aging research to pedestrians on Lincoln Road, claiming he was the nephew of former Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, a story denied by former leader’s family.

“He had so much faith in himself. I don’t even think he knows he’s crazy,” one former roommate told the Herald in 2011. “He truly thinks he’s the smartest person in the world.”

His yogurt cream purported to grow hair on balding men, turn gray hair dark and generally reverse the aging process. At the heart of his pitch was an enzyme known as telomerase, discovered in the early 1980s, which scientists believe can slow the decline of the body’s cells.

But experts say research is still basic and has not shown that successfully introducing the enzyme into the body can reverse aging in older humans.

Fox insisted the investment money went to lab testing, clinical trials, production and marketing. But after combing through bank records and interviewing victims, state agents found that most of the money invested from July 2007 to November 2009 went toward Fox’s daily living expenses, including alcohol, drugs and lavish meals for friends.