Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie K. Pierson (619) 546-7976
SUMMARY OF PRESS RELEASE – August 12, 2022
SAN DIEGO – Eco Shield, LLC and its owner, Samir Haj, were convicted today in federal court for importing, shipping and selling “EcoAirDoctor” during the pandemic.
Haj was sentenced to eight months in custody and the two defendants (Eco Shield and Haj) were ordered to confiscate $427,689 in proceeds and pay restitution of $86,754, while the company was ordered to pay a fine. of $42,000. EcoAirDoctor consisted of a small badge attached to clothing that released chlorine dioxide into the air and was represented by the defendants to protect the user “from infectious diseases transmitted through the air”, including COVID-19.
Products making these types of public health claims are regulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which requires extensive testing to support claims of efficacy and safety before approving their registration and release. sale in the United States. EcoAirDoctor was not registered with the EPA, and tests conducted on behalf of the defendants found the badge was not measurably effective “at killing useful numbers of airborne microbes.”
The EcoAirDoctor badge was made of sodium chlorite and natural zeolite. When the product was opened, the zeolite came into contact with the sodium chlorite, releasing chlorine dioxide gas. The EPA has established a benchmark concentration for long-term continuous exposure to chlorine dioxide of 0.00007 parts per million (ppm). Risks from inhalation of chlorine dioxide are of concern if the airborne concentrations to which people are exposed exceed the background concentration. Documentation provided by Eco Shield, LLC states that levels below 0.0001 do not kill viruses and states that the concentration for viral inactivation should be between 0.0001 and 0.1 ppm. Based on these numbers, if defendants’ product emitted chlorine dioxide at levels deemed safe by the EPA, it would not be at levels sufficient to kill viruses.
Sodium chlorite and chlorine dioxide (not hydrated) both belong to hazard class 5.1 under the rules and regulations of the United States Postal Service (“USPS”), for which mailing is prohibited. Shipping these materials through USPS is strictly prohibited, due to the danger of fire and explosion. Chlorine dioxide does not need air to burn and can cause coughing, wheezing and respiratory distress. At very high levels of exposure, it can be fatal. Eco Shield, LLC records indicated that 1,744 Air Doctor wearable devices were shipped via the USPS to buyers across the United States between March 1, 2020 and April 18, 2020. At least 300 of these shipments took place after the defendants were advised that the courier shipment was illegal.
The defendants imported the EcoAirDoctor badge from Japan, misdescribing it as air purifiers rather than pesticides, which would have subject the entry to inspection by the EPA. In addition to misrepresenting the nature of the goods, the entry documents undervalued the shipment by more than $500,000, allowing the defendants to evade $33,919 in customs duties. The sentence imposed required the defendants to pay restitution of $86,754 to US Customs to cover lost duties and the cost of disposing of seized EcoAirDoctor badges.
The defendants profited greatly from the sale of the illegally imported pesticides. At the start of the pandemic, the badges, purchased for $6.25 each, were later sold to the public in the United States for $20.95 each, plus shipping. In the first six months of 2020, defendants pocketed $1,132,950 from badge sales, including sales made outside of the United States. The Federal Trade Commission issued a warning letter, April 27, 2020, advising the company not to make unsubstantiated claims for protection against the coronavirus, and on July 24, 2020, the EPA issued an order discontinuation, sale, use or deletion. The sentence forces the defendants to forfeit $427,689 of the proceeds from the sale of the badges in the United States.
“Not only did this product not work, it was even potentially harmful,” said US Attorney Randy Grossman. “Defendant and his company will be held liable for taking advantage of Covid fears during a global pandemic.” Grossman thanked the prosecution team and investigative agencies for their excellent work on this case.
“Defendants knowingly persisted in their false claims that their product provided protection against COVID-19,” said Special Agent in Charge Scot Adair of the California EPA Criminal Investigative Program. “The EPA and its law enforcement partners are committed to holding responsible parties accountable for endangering people’s health.”
“Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and our government partners are committed to protecting the American public from criminal networks that attempt to illegally import and sell products that may endanger the lives of American consumers for financial gain,” said HSI San Diego Special Agent in Charge Chad Plantz. “We remain vigilant and will use our broad legal powers to disrupt and dismantle criminal networks seeking to exploit and benefit from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Postal inspectors remain vigilant to protect the U.S. Postal Service and the communities we serve. Preventing dangerous misuse of the nation’s messaging system remains one of our top priorities,” said Inspector in Charge Carroll N Harris.
This case was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigations Division, Homeland Security Investigations and the Postal Service. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie K. Pierson of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California and Senior Prosecutor Stephen Da Ponte of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice.
DEFENDANTS Case number 21cr1463-JLS
Samir Haj Age: 47 San Diego, CA
Entry of Falsely Classified Goods – Title 18, USC, Section 541
Maximum penalty: two years in prison, $250,000 fine, restitution and forfeiture
Shipment of Harmful Substances – Title 18, USC, Section 1716(j)(1)
Maximum penalty: one year in prison, $100,000 fine
Sale/Distribution of Unregistered Pesticides – Title 7, USC, Section 136j(a)(1)(A) and 136l(b)(1)(B)
Maximum penalty: one year in prison, $100,000 fine
homeland security investigations; US Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigations Division; United States Postal Inspection Service
California Department of Toxic Substances Control, Bureau of Criminal Investigations
* On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to mobilize Department of Justice resources in partnership with agencies across government to scale up efforts combating and preventing fraud linked to the pandemic. The task force strengthens efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies administering relief programs to prevent fraud, among other methods, by increasing and integrating coordination mechanisms existing ones, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their agendas, and sharing and leveraging information and knowledge gained from previous enforcement efforts. For more information about the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Anyone with information about alleged attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline at 866-720-5721 or via NCDF’s online complaint form at: https://www. .justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.