Florida men charged with selling bleach as COVID-19 'miracle cure'

A Florida man and his three adult sons are facing a slew of charges for allegedly using a phony church to sell bleach as a false “miracle” cure for many different ailments — including COVID-19, AIDS, cancer and autism — over the last decade.

The four men from Bradenton, Fla., hocked their “Miracle Mineral Solution” as a cure-all over the internet, while disregarding health warnings and a court order to halt their activities, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. The substance, which was also labelled “Master Mineral Solution,” was sold through a non-religious entity called Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, according to the criminal complaint.

The “Solution” was a mixture of water and sodium chlorite, a chemical that turns into a powerful, industrial-strength bleach when swallowed according to instructions, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says. The suspects urged their customers to drink the chemical as part of their sales pitch, according to the criminal complaint.

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Self-styled “bishop” Mark Grenon, 62, and his sons Jonathan Grenon, 34, Joseph Grenon, 32, and Jordan Grenon, 26, were charged on Wednesday with conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to violate the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act and criminal contempt. They face a maximum of between 14 and more than 17 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

Mark Grenon denounced the allegations as a violation of his First Amendment rights in a video posted on his website Thursday.

Records in Miami federal court Wednesday did not list lawyers for any of the Grenons.

A federal judge ordered the Grenons to stop selling their snake oil-like substance back in April, but the Grenons rebelled against the order, denouncing it in an email to the judge and on various podcasts.

“We will NOT be participating in any of your UNCONSTITUTIONAL Orders, Summons, etc,” reads an email from Mark Grenon to the judge. “Again and again I have written you all that … you have NO authority over our Church.”

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The FDA issued a public warning about the concoction’s harmful effects last August, when it specifically called out the “Miracle Mineral Solution,” or MMS, by name.

“When mixed (with citric acid) according to package directions, they become a strong chemical that is used as bleach,” the FDA wrote last year. The agency points out that the mixture effectively turns into chlorine dioxide, a powerful industrial disinfectant that is not safe for human consumption.

“Drinking any of these chlorine dioxide products can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and symptoms of severe dehydration,” the agency says on its website. It adds that drinking bleach can be fatal.

“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,” said Miami U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan in a news release. “We will not sit idly by as individuals purposefully violate court orders and put the public in danger.”

According to the criminal complaint, the Grenons founded their “church” in 2010 “for the express purpose of cloaking their unlawful conduct” under the guise of religious freedom. They allegedly sold bottles of MMS for a “donation” of US$40.

The complaint says the Grenons made a fortune from their business, including US$500,000 in 2019 alone. They also saw a major spike in sales after they started claiming the MMS could cure coronavirus in March.

The FDA ordered the Grenons to stop marketing their MMS as a coronavirus cure back in April, two weeks before U.S. President Donald Trump floated the idea of treating COVID-19 with disinfectant.

“I see that disinfectant, it knocks it out. In a minute. One minute,” Trump said at the time. “And is there a way that we can do something like that, by injection inside or, or, almost a cleaning? Because you see, it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number … so it’d be interesting to check.”

Health experts and laypeople mocked the idea as unscientific and even “idiotic” at the time, since drinking bleach is dangerous and potentially deadly.

In contrast, Mark Grenon celebrated Trump’s comments in a Facebook post on April 24, the Washington Post reports. “Trump has got the MMS and all the info!!! Things are happening folks!” he wrote. “Lord help others to see the Truth!”

Grenon also vowed to send a letter to Trump asking for his support, according to a post on his website.

Grenon urged his followers to plead with Trump on his behalf Wednesday, in an “emergency newsletter” posted on his website.

“Send President Trump your testimony and ask for relief from this attack by the FDA and DOJ against the Genesis III Church,” the letter said.

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The FDA applauded the charges against the Grenons on Wednesday, following its long campaign to warn people about the dangers of their product.

“The Genesis II Church of Health and Healing has actively and deliberately placed consumers at risk with their fraudulent Miracle Mineral Solution and Americans expect and deserve medical treatments that have been scientifically proven to be safe and effective,” said Catherine Hermsen, assistant commissioner of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations, in a statement.

The Grenons’ home state of Florida is currently dealing with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the U.S. The state reported nearly 9,000 new cases on Thursday and a new record of 120 deaths in one day. That brings its overall totals to more than 229,000 cases and more than 4,000 deaths to date.

The U.S. currently leads the world with more than 3.1 million confirmed cases and 133,000 deaths, according to a tally by the New York Times.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

—With files from The Associated Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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