San Diego Firm and Owner Pleads Guilty to Illegal Importation, Sale and Mailing of Product Marketed as COVID-19 Killer

SAN DIEGO CA (5/26/2021) – A San Diego firm and its owner pleaded guilty in federal court today to charges relating to the unlawful importation, sale and mailing of an unregistered pesticide product from Japan marketed as a killer of airborne viruses such as COVID-19.

The product, known as EcoAirDoctor, was a small badge represented to emit a gas that would kill viruses within a certain distance. Such products are required to be registered as pesticides in the United States; no such registration was obtained.

Samir Haj, owner of EcoShield, LLC, admitted that he negotiated an agreement on behalf of the company with a foreign exporter that allowed him to import the product for a cost of $6.25 per unit. When he imported 125,000 units into the United States on June 10, 2019, he falsely declared the value to be approximately $2.07 per unit, resulting in an underpayment of Customs duty of $33,919.

The product was falsely described as an air purifier rather than a pesticide. The defendants shipped the product to individuals who purchased from their website via U.S. Mail, including a shipment to an undercover mailbox in Arizona in May of 2020. The product, as noted on the label, contains sodium chlorite, which is an item declared to be unmailable under U.S. Postal rules and regulations. Sodium chlorite was deemed unmailable because of its propensity to cause fire or explosion.

As part of the plea agreements, the defendants agreed to forfeit $427,689, the proceeds from the sale of the illegal product, and to pay restitution of $86,754 for the unpaid duty and the cost of disposing of the product that was not sold. In addition, the company agreed to pay a fine of $42,000, for a total financial penalty of $556,443.

“This defendant took advantage of COVID-19 fears to market an illegal product,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “We are aggressively pursuing opportunists who exploit the pandemic to make money.”

Grossman praised Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie Pierson; trial attorney Stephen DaPonte of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section; and agents with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigations Division; Homeland Security Investigations; and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for their exceptional work on this case.

“Unregistered pesticide products pose serious public health dangers,” said Special Agent in Charge Scot Adair of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in California. “Today’s guilty plea demonstrates that EPA and our law enforcement partners are committed to protecting the American people from products that make fraudulent – and potentially harmful – COVID-19 protection claims.”

“Whenever someone uses the U.S. Mail to send dangerous, illegal, or improper items, Postal Inspectors will find them and bring them to justice,” said Eric Shen, Acting Postal Inspector in Charge, Los Angeles Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. “We remain committed to keeping the mail safe for our customers and our employees.”

“This individual violated several federal laws and jeopardized public safety by marketing and selling an unproven device,” said Cardell T. Morant, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). “It’s despicable that he preyed upon people’s fear of COVID-19 to turn a profit. HSI will continue to work with our partners at Environmental Protection Agency -Criminal Investigation Division, California Department of Toxic Substances Control, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to ensure public safety during this pandemic.”

Sentencing is scheduled for August 13, 2021 at 9 a.m. Before U.S. District Judge Janis L. Sammartino.

DEFENDANTS Case Number 21cr1463

EcoShield, LLC Formed: July 2018 San Diego, California

Samir Haj Age: 46 San Diego, California

SUMMARY OF CHARGES

For Eco Shield LLC

Entry of Goods Falsely Classified – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 541

Maximum penalty: Five years of probation and $500,000 fine or twice the amount of gross gain or loss, restitution to victims, forfeiture of proceeds

For Samir Haj

Entry of Goods Falsely Classified – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 541

Maximum penalty: Two years in custody and $250,000 fine, restitution to victims, forfeiture of proceeds

Nonmailable Injurious Articles – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1716(j)(1)

Maximum penalty: One year in custody and $100,000 fine

Distribution or Sale of Unregistered Pesticides – Title 7, U.S.C., Sections 136j(a)(1)(A) and 136l(b)(1)(B)

Maximum penalty: One year in custody and $100,000 fine

AGENCIES

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigations Division

Homeland Security Investigations

U.S. Postal Inspection Service

Contact Information: Julia Giarmoleo (giarmoleo.julia@epa.gov) 213-326-2033

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