By: Richard L. Smith
A federal judge sentenced a South-Jersey man to 5 years in jail who sold more than $2.7 million worth of pesticides he falsely 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 Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division reported Thursday.
According to federal officials, Paul Andrecola, 63, of Maple Shade, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Robert B. Kugler in Camden federal court to an information charging him with one count each of knowingly distributing or selling an unregistered pesticide in violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), wire fraud, and presenting false claims to the United States. Judge Kugler imposed the sentence today in Camden federal court.
Some of the hand sanitizer products was used by staff and students in Newark Public Schools.
“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 fraudsters who commit such egregious criminal acts.”
“The defendant committed a brazen fraud amid a global pandemic and sought to profit from people’s fears of contracting the coronavirus,” Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) said.
“This sentence shows that these crimes are serious and will be vigorously prosecuted by the Department of Justice.”
“Today’s sentence holds the defendant accountable for perpetrating 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 to hold violators accountable for placing the public at risk by failing 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. No person may distribute or sell a pesticide that has not been registered with the EPA.
Before pesticide products can legally claim that they can kill a particular pathogen, such as SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus), the claim must be authorized by EPA based on a data review.
In March 2020, at the beginning of the global pandemic, the EPA created a list of EPA-registered products that it deemed 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 Mount Laurel, New Jersey, 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.
In addition to the prison term, Judge Kugler sentenced Andrecola to three years of supervised release and forfeiture of $2.74 million – the proceeds from selling the illegal product.
The defendant is also responsible for making full restitution for all losses resulting from his commission of the charged crimes.