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Man Who ‘Cashed in on COVID Fears’ Sentenced for Selling Foreign Pesticide As Virus Protection

CrimeMan Who ‘Cashed in on COVID Fears’ Sentenced for Selling Foreign Pesticide As Virus Protection

Federal courthouseFederal courthouse in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

A San Diego man who pleaded guilty to federal charges related to his false representations of an unregistered pesticide product from Japan was sentenced Friday to eight months in prison.

Samir Haj was accused of unlawfully importing, selling and mailing the product, marketed for its purported ability to kill airborne viruses like COVID-19.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the product, EcoAirDoctor, was said to emit a gas that would kill viruses within a certain distance, and was falsely described as an air purifier, rather than a pesticide. The product consisted of a badge that consumers could clip to their clothing to release chlorine dioxide into the air, according to prosecutors.

Haj, 47, admitted to selling the product despite lacking the proper registration, as required for pesticides in the U.S., as well as falsely declaring the product’s value when importing it, resulting in an underpayment of customs duty of $33,919, prosecutors said.

The product also was shipped to customers despite containing sodium chlorite, which cannot be mailed under U.S. postal regulations due to its propensity to cause fires and explosions, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Though one package was rejected by the Postal Service because it contained a “hazardous and unmailable substance,” prosecutors said more than 300 additional packages were mailed out.

According to the prosecution’s sentencing papers, Haj and his San Diego-based company, EcoShield LLC, made more than $1.1 million from sales both in and outside the country.

“This product not only didn’t work, but it was even potentially harmful,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “The defendant and his company will be held to account for cashing in on COVID fears during a global pandemic.”

As part of the plea agreements, Haj and EcoShield also agreed to forfeit $427,689, the proceeds from the sale of EcoAirDoctor. The company also agreed to pay a fine of $42,000, with $86,754 to be paid in restitution for the unpaid duty and cost of disposing the products that were not sold.

– City News Service

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