Photo credit: Doug Nash
It wasn’t hard to see why the Justice Department prosecuted Louis Daniel Smith for selling misbranded drugs. By their account, the 46-year-old was selling a substance that he claimed could cure everything from cancer to AIDS to asthma but was, in reality, a type of bleach.
Smith was convicted last year and is now serving a sentence of four years and three months in federal prison. But his miracle cure, dismissed as fake by the Food and Drug Administration, continues to be promoted by its devoted, anti-pharmaceutical-industry advocates. They say they’re unafraid of the authorities because they’re not selling the substance but simply spreading their religious values.
“As long as I’m just telling you about it, it’s just education,” said 78-year-old Floyd Jerred, a bishop in the Genesis II Church of Health & Healing, which has made the elixir the centerpiece of its religion. “And if they do lock me up, I know how to do out-of-body travel. I can go anywhere, see anything I want to see anyway.”
The case of MMS, also known as Miracle Mineral Solution or Miracle Mineral Supplement, illustrates a persistent problem for federal regulators and prosecutors. People seeking a quick way to get cured — or to get healthier, skinnier or stronger — are willing to try untested products, and some in the supplement industry prey on their hopes.
Federal prosecutors have recently been cracking down. A Justice Department spokesman said year-by-year data was not available, but in November the department announced it had brought civil or criminal cases against more than 100 makers and marketers of dietary supplements as part of a sweep.
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch noted the aggressive enforcement in a video message released Tuesday. In one indictment, prosecutors alleged that the distributors of two popular workout and weight-loss supplements — Jack3d and OxyElite Pro — lied about the ingredients in their products and knew of studies linking them to liver toxicity.
But MMS and testimonials about its effectiveness continue to proliferate online, largely because of the Genesis II Church of Health & Healing. Church leaders put on costly seminars for people to learn more about the product, and one later this month in Houston asks people for “$500 cash at the door,” according to an online listing.
Benjamin C. Mizer, the principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil division, said supplements are not subject to standards as rigorous as those for FDA-approved drugs. MMS, he said, represents a “particularly egregious” case.
“The people who are promoting and distributing MMS are telling people to ingest bleach, and that is not good for anyone,” Mizer said.