The promotion of quack treatments recently received a heavy blow from the U. S. criminal justice system. Louis Daniel Smith, one of the major players behind selling industrial-strength bleach as a miracle cure for various diseases and conditions, was convicted in a federal court for “introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead”, “fraudulently smuggling merchandise into the United States” and “conspiracy to commit multiple crimes” according to a press release from the U. S. Department of Justice. He now risks being sentenced to 34 years in prison.
This is a stunning victory for science-based medicine, consumer protection and scientific skepticism generally. It will help protect thousands of people with cancer, HIV, malaria or autism who would otherwise have fallen prey for quackery, both in terms of health and finances. It will also provide a powerful response to both those who claims that quack treatments do not cause harm and those who claim that skeptical activism is pointless. Pseudoscience (and alternative medicine in particular) does cause considerable harm, and skeptical activism does work.
What diseases and conditions were industrial-strength bleach suppose to treat?
A federal jury in the Eastern District of Washington returned a guilty verdict yesterday against a Spokane, Washington, man for selling industrial bleach as a miracle cure for numerous diseases and illnesses, including cancer, AIDS, malaria, hepatitis, lyme disease, asthma and the common cold, the Department of Justice announced.
Warning alarms should always sound when a purported treatment claims to be a miracle cure for a wide range of diseases and conditions that are largely unrelated to each other, such as AIDS, malaria, asthma and so on. However, this short list is incomplete. Miracle Mineral Solution is being peddled for an even wider array of conditions than that on the Internet: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), autism spectrum conditions, herpes, dog bites, root canal, gangrene, urinary tract infections, HPV warts, eczema, influenza, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, whooping cough, fibromyalgia, first-degree burns, spider bites, chlamydia, getting bitten by drug addicts, singles, bleeding hemorrhoids, diverticulitis, allergies, gall stones, eye infections, tetanus and even (believe it or not) wounds resulting from attacks by rogue baboons.
What was Louis Daniel Smith convicted for?
Louis Daniel Smith, 45, was convicted following a seven-day trial of conspiracy, smuggling, selling misbranded drugs and defrauding the United States. […] In all, the jury convicted Smith of one count of conspiracy to commit multiple crimes, three counts of introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead and one count of fraudulently smuggling merchandise into the United States. The jury found Smith not guilty on one out of four of the misbranded drug counts.
It might be a bit strange that Smith was convicted of crimes such as smuggling, defrauding the government and misbranding of drugs. Why not for selling dangerous and toxic products? This is because supplements are largely unregulated in the United States as a result of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. This freed producers and sellers of alternative and complementary “treatments” from having to submit information to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to show that their product was safe. Thus, in order to stop people who peddle dangerous quackery, the criminal justice system must prosecute them for these offer offenses.
Evidence at trial showed that Smith operated a business called “Project GreenLife” (PGL) from 2007 to 2011. PGL sold a product called “Miracle Mineral Supplement,” or MMS, over the Internet.
Four years might seem a short time period, but there could be thousands of people who have become victims, both in terms of damaged health and ruptured personal finances. Taking into account the possibility that this inspired others to sell it as well and increasing the general awareness and interest into this quack treatments, the consequences are even more severe.
According to the evidence presented at trial, Smith created phony “water purification” and “wastewater treatment” businesses in order to obtain sodium chlorite and ship his MMS without being detected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The government also presented evidence that Smith hid evidence from FDA inspectors and destroyed evidence while law enforcement agents were executing search warrants on his residence and business.
This really shows that Smith was intentionally malicious: he created an entire business based on false premises in order to smuggle sodium chlorite, he hid evidence from the FDA and destroyed evidence during a search warrant.
What does Miracle Mineral Solution really do?
MMS is a mixture of sodium chlorite and water. Sodium chlorite is an industrial chemical used as a pesticide and for hydraulic fracking and wastewater treatment. Sodium chlorite cannot be sold for human consumption and suppliers of the chemical include a warning sheet stating that it can cause potentially fatal side effects if swallowed.
The government presented evidence that Smith instructed consumers to combine MMS with citric acid to create chlorine dioxide, add water and drink the resulting mixture to cure numerous illnesses. Chlorine dioxide is a potent agent used to bleach textiles, among other industrial applications. Chlorine dioxide is a severe respiratory and eye irritant that can cause nausea, diarrhea and dehydration.
Believe it or not, Smith and co-conspirators were genuinely selling industrial-strength bleach precursor and told customers to make bleach out of it. Even worse, he explicitly told them to ignore the health consequences of this quack “treatment”:
According to the instructions for use that Smith provided with his product, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting were all signs that the miracle cure was working. The instructions also stated that despite a risk of possible brain damage, the product might still be appropriate for pregnant women or infants who were seriously ill.
“You feel considerably worse after drinking bleach? Well, that just means that it is working!” That is some nuclear-grade bullshit right there. Never believe a word of it.
To outsiders, it seems very implausible that vomiting and diarrhea means that a “treatment” is working, but when you read testimonials from some people on the Internet, you can see how vulnerable victims of snake oil salesmen might be willing to believe it. Parents who use bleach enema on their autistic children believe that autism is related to an inflamed intestine, and when bleach enema produce diarrhea, those parents think that this constitutes a resolution of the bowel problem. People with respiratory conditions might believe that coughing up/vomiting dark stuff after inhaling bleach clears the lungs of the disease and so on. The willingness of desperate victims to believe is truly immense.
What are the consequences of this conviction?
He faces a statutory maximum of 34 years in prison at his Sept. 9 sentencing.
We will have to wait until early September before we know the sentence for sure, but he apparently risks a total of 34 years in prison. This is good news because it will keep a seller of dangerous quackery off the streets. Predictably, he will probably be a martyr for his beliefs and this might increase popularity of Miracle Mineral Solution. Hopefully, increased watchfulness by the Department of Justice and others will counter this.
His co-conspirators (Chris Olson, Tammy Olson and Karis DeLong) submitted guilty pleas for introducing falsely branded drugs earlier. Court documents are available here as they become available.
“This verdict demonstrates that the Department of Justice will prosecute those who sell dangerous chemicals as miracle cures to sick people and their desperate loved ones,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Consumers have the right to expect that the medicines that they purchase are safe and effective.” Mizer thanked the jury for its service and its careful consideration of the evidence.
Winning the war against pseudoscientific quackery is a long process that require tremendous effort of everyone involved. However, winning this battle was an important achievement for both scientific skeptics, the victims of quackery and the U. S. criminal justice system.</p