The Feds have had enough of a Florida “church” selling bleach as a COVID-19 cure.
On Wednesday, criminal charges were unsealed against the leadership of “Genesis II Church of Health and Healing,” allegedly a family business of sorts that, according to authorities, sold a half-million dollars in “Miracle Mineral Solution” (MMS) products to their devoted followers over the past year.
The church’s “archbishop,” Mark Scott Grenon, is a household name in the household-cleaners-as-fake-medicines game. In 2016, ABC News covered his venture in a story on “the high priests of snake oil.”
Grenon and his adult sons Jonathan, Jordan and Joseph now face criminal charges: Conspiracy to defraud the United States and criminal contempt — the latter for allegedly “willfully violating” a judge’s orders in April and May that they stop distributing MMS.
“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 Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, in a press release Wednesday. “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.”
MMS has been around for years and is especially popular in anti-vaccine circles and among other groups distrustful of mainstream medicine. But it’s never been approved by the FDA for anything. An FDA special agent, in an affidavit in support of the criminal charges against the men, described it as “a powerful bleaching agent typically used for bleaching and stripping textiles, pulp, and paper.”
The affidavit alleges that the Grenons’ “church” is simply a front for their bleach business.
In a February interview cited in the affidavit, Mark Grenon noted that religious institutions were insulated from the law governing commercial ventures.
“That’s why a priest can give a kid wine in church publicly and not get arrested,” Grenon said.
As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation, authorities said, the Grenons got on board the gravy train.
“The Coronavirus is curable! Do you believe it? You better!” blared a headline over a March podcast episode featuring Mark and Joseph Grenon.
That month, after the Grenons started promoting MMS as a COVID-19 cure, their monthly sales revenue went from around $32,000 per month, on average, to $123,000, according to the feds — a nearly four-fold increase.
Even after a federal judge ordered the family to stop distributing the bleach, they kept at it, according to the affidavit.
At one point, an FDA investigator who was attempting to get MMS from the Grenons followed the instructions in a newsletter to fill out a questionnaire in exchange for the product.
One of the questions was “Do you work for any government or nongovernment agencies” such as the FDA or DOJ. “The reason we’re asking this is . . . they’re trying to cause us trouble,” the questionnaire said, per the affidavit. “And all we’re trying to do is get [MMS] to everyone.”
And in a podcast in late April, cited in the affidavit, Mark Grenon compared U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. Williams’ orders to immoral laws.
“That’s when you pick up guns, right?” he said. “You want a Waco? Do they want a Waco?”
In a podcast in May cited in the affidavit, Mark Grenon said Judge Williams “could be taken out.”
“[W]e’re not obeying it,” he said of the judge’s orders. “Don’t care what you do.”
In another court filing Wednesday, prosecutors argued that the defendants presented a flight risk and an ongoing danger to others.
“Given the certainty that the Defendants will persist in their pattern of dangerous criminal activity, to the imminent detriment of the community, pretrial detention is necessary,” prosecutors said.