Robert Ligon, a 68-year-old food executive is scheduled to begin his prison term on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The three-year scheme spanned America and involved selling mislabelled doughnuts, cinnamon rolls and cookies to diet centres. Labels on Ligon’s doughnuts said they contained three grams of fat and 135 calories.

But officials at the Food and Drug Administration said one of the doughnuts, glazed with chocolate, contained 18 grams of fat and 530 calories.

It all came crashing down on Ligon when customers complained to the FDA about how tasty his products were.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” said Jim Dahl, assistant director of the Office of Criminal Investigation for the FDA.

“Science can do a lot of things, but we’re not quite there yet,” he said.

Repackaged doughnuts

According to FDA agents, Ligon purchased full-fat doughnuts from a Chicago-based bakery, and repackaged them as diet doughnuts.

For Ligon, it was a profitable venture as he purchased each doughnut for about 25 cents and would resell the mislabelled version for a dollar each.

The FDA launched an investigation in 1997 after complaints from customers who said they had gained weight from the so-called weight loss doughnuts.

The investigation resulted in a raid of Ligon’s office and packaging facilities. FDA officials seized 18,720 doughnuts, along with cinnamon rolls and labels. Ligon’s business was subsequently shut down.

'Abuse of trust'

“Mr. Ligon abused the trust people put on these labels," says Stuart Fullerton, the assistant US attorney who prosecuted the case. "It's kind of cruel on his part to do this.”

Ligon told the Wall Street Journal he did not intentionally break the law and never heard a single complaint about his doughnuts.

“Everybody wanted the product and were very upset they couldn't get the product,” he says. Asked if he felt the punishment fit the crime, he says: “I feel like I've been singled out.”

Oddly enough, Ligon says he does not even eat doughnuts – which is quite convenient since most federal prisons do not serve them to begin with anyway.