BRADENTON, Fla. — Federal prosecutors in Miami have charged four Bradenton men accused of marketing a toxic bleach as a cure for COVID-19. And, their self-described church was searched on Wednesday.
Investigators say they manufactured, promoted and sold "Miracle Mineral Solution" -- a chemical mixture containing sodium chlorite and water.
According to a criminal complaint, 62-year-old Mark Grenon and his sons -- Jonathan Grenon, 34, Jordan Grenon, 26, and Joseph Grenon, 32 -- told their customers to ingest the solution orally. Prosecutors say that causes the solution to become chlorine dioxide, a powerful bleach that is frequently used for industrial water treatment or for bleaching textiles, pulp, and paper.
"[The] FDA has received reports of people requiring hospitalizations, developing life-threatening conditions, and dying after drinking MMS," according to a news release from the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida.
Authorities say the Grenons claimed MMS could treat, prevent and cure the coronavirus. The FDA has not approved the solution for treating COVID-19 or anything else.
"Rather, in prior official warning statements, the FDA has strongly urged consumers not to purchase or use MMS, explaining that drinking MMS is the same as drinking bleach and can cause dangerous side effects, including severe vomiting, diarrhea, and life-threatening low blood pressure," the news release said.
Prosecutors allege that before marketing MMS as a cure for COVID-19, the Grenons promoted it as a "miracle cure-all for dozens of other serious diseases and disorders, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, autism, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS."
They're accused of selling tens of thousands of bottles of the solution nationwide, including to customers in South Florida.
According to prosecutors, the Grenons sold the product "under the guise of Genesis II Church of Health and Healing (“Genesis”), an entity they allegedly created in an attempt to avoid government regulation of MMS."
Charging documents describe Genesis as a non-religious church.
"Defendant Mark Grenon, the co-founder of Genesis, has repeatedly acknowledged that Genesis 'has nothing to do with religion,' and that he founded Genesis to 'legalize the use of MMS' and avoid 'going to jail,'" The U.S. Attorney's Office said.
The Grenons are being charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S., conspiracy to violate the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and criminal contempt.
The government previously filed a civil case against the family and the "church," during which time a court ordered the Grenons to stop distributing MMS. Now, prosecutors are accusing them of willfully violating those court orders.
RELATED: FDA: Self-described church ordered to stop selling 'miracle' bleach-equivalent to cure COVID-19
The criminal complaint alleges the Grenons sent letters to the judge in their civil case, saying they would not comply with the court orders. Prosecutors say the Grenons also threatened violence in those letters.
“We continue to protect the public from criminal conduct that takes advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic,” U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan wrote in a statement. “Not only is this MMS product toxic, but its distribution and use may prevent those who are sick from receiving the legitimate healthcare they need. A United States District Court already has ordered the defendants to stop distributing this product; we will not sit idly by as individuals purposefully violate Court orders and put the public in danger.”
Law enforcement officers showed up with search warrants Wednesday at the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing in Bradenton, according to our news partner WWSB.
The TV station reports Hazmat crews were dispatched to help local and federal authorities at the church's property on Garden Parkway. The Hazmat crews were reportedly there to help identify chemicals that were found, including 50 gallons of muriatic acid, 22 gallons of “Miracle Mineral Solution,” and 8,300 pounds sodium chloride.
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