A Burlington County, New Jersey, man today admitted selling $2.7 million worth of pesticides he claimed were registered with the Environmental Protection Agency as being effective against coronavirus.
U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger and Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, announced that Paul Andrecola, 63, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Robert B. Kugler in Camden federal court to an information charging him with one count of knowingly distributing or selling an unregistered pesticide in violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), one count of wire fraud, and one count of presenting false claims to the United States.
“Paul Andrecola’s scheme profited on the fears of the American people during the height of concerns about transmission of COVID-19,” U.S. Attorney Sellinger said. “Our office is dedicated to protecting public health and prosecuting to the full extent of the law those who commit such egregious criminal acts.”
“Andrecola not only cheated dozens of people out of millions of dollars, but also endangered the health of those who relied on his fraudulent virucidal products,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The Department of Justice is committed to prosecuting such crimes to the fullest extent possible.”
“This announcement represents the largest pandemic fraud case related to the sale of unregistered pesticides charged nationwide,” Special Agent in Charge Tyler Amon of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in New Jersey said. “This case underscores EPA’s commitment with our law enforcement partners to hold violators accountable when they undercut the level playing field used by law abiding companies to ensure the integrity and safety of their products.”
According to documents filed in this case, and statements made in court:
FIFRA regulates the distribution, sale, and use of pesticides to ensure that pesticides sold in the United States are safe, effective, and bear labeling containing true and accurate information. The EPA is responsible for regulating the manufacture, labeling, and distribution of all pesticides shipped or received in interstate commerce.
Under FIFRA, all pesticides must be registered with the EPA before the pesticide can be sold or distributed, and no person may distribute or sell a pesticide that has not been registered with the EPA. Before pesticide products can legally make claims that they can kill a particular pathogen, such as SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus), the claim must be authorized by EPA based on a review of data. In March 2020, at the beginning of the global pandemic, the EPA created a list of EPA-registered products that it deemed to be effective against coronavirus, titled “List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2.” The EPA has continued to update this list since its creation.
Andrecola, who controls two companies and is employed by a third company, all based in in Mount Laurel, manufactured various disinfectant products, including liquids and wipes, under the brand name “GCLEAN.” GCLEAN products were unregistered pesticides under FIFRA and none of the products were on EPA’s List N. Andrecola placed another company’s EPA registration numbers on his company’s products and falsely marketed that his products were EPA-approved to kill coronavirus by creating numerous false documents to support his claims. Andrecola, or others at his behest, would provide this falsified documentation to potential customers representing that various sanitizer and wipe products in the names GCLEAN or GC200 were EPA-registered products List N to persuade them to purchase the unregistered pesticide products.
From March 2020 through May 2021, Andrecola used these fraudulent representations to make more than 150 sales of unregistered pesticides for a profit of more than $2.7 million. The purchasers of these unregistered pesticides included a police department in Delaware, a fire department in Virginia, a medical clinic in Georgia, a janitorial supply company in New York, a school district in Wisconsin, and numerous U.S. Government agencies, including the U.S. Marshal’s Service, Moody Air Force Base, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the National Forest Service.
The count of illegal sale of an unregistered pesticide carries a statutory maximum prison sentence of one year, and a fine of up to $25,000. The charge of wire fraud is punishable by a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and the count of false claims against the United States is punishable by a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison. Both the charges of wire fraud and false claims against the United States are each also subject to fines of $250,000, twice the gross profits to Andrecola, or twice the gross loss suffered by the victims, whichever is greatest. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 11, 2022.
As part of the plea agreement, Andrecola agreed to forfeit $2.74 million – the proceeds from the sale of the illegal product, and to make full restitution for all losses resulting from his commission of the charged crimes.