SAN DIEGO – A San Diego resident who sold illegally imported pesticides and marketed them as products that could protect buyers from airborne diseases was sentenced Friday to eight months in prison, prosecutors said.
Samir Haj, 47, pleaded guilty earlier this year to charges including unlawful importation, sale and mailing of a pesticide from Japan, Kelly Thornton with the Office of the United States Attorney Southern District of California stated in a release Monday. Haj in selling the product marketed it “as a killer of airborne viruses such as COVID-19.”
The San Diego man’s business, Eco Shield LLC, was also ordered to forfeit $427,689 in profits and pay restitution totaling more than $142,000.
“This product not only didn’t work, but it was even potentially harmful,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman for the Southern District of California. “The defendant and his company will be held to account for cashing in on Covid-19 fears during a global pandemic.”
The EcoAirDoctor product sold by Haj claimed to disinfect and kill viruses up to a certain distance away from the machine and the product had not been vetted or verified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“The defendants knowingly persisted in their false assertions that their product provided protection against COVID-19,” said Special Agent in Charge Scot Adair of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Program in California. “EPA and its law enforcement partners are committed to holding responsible parties accountable for putting people’s health at risk.”
According to officials from the U.S. Department of Justice, the EcoAirDoctor contained both sodium chlorite and zeolite which, when combined, released an unhealthy level of chlorine dioxide gas into the air.
Haj and Eco Shield LLC received at least 300 shipments of sodium chlorite and chlorine dioxide between March 2020 and April 2020, despite the products being considered Hazard Class 5.1 materials, making them illegal to ship due to fire and explosion concerns, attorney officials said. The defendants described the products as air purifiers rather than pesticides in order to allow them to pass through without further inspection.
Officials estimate that Haj and Eco Shield LLC profited more than $1.1 million from the sale of the EcoAirDoctor, selling to both customers inside and outside of the U.S.