Floridians who promoted bleach cocktail as a COVID-19 cure arrested in Colombia

Colombian officials say they have arrested two Florida men wanted in the United States on charges they illegally sold a bleach-like chemical as a miracle cure for the new coronavirus and other diseases.

Family from self-styled 'church' has been hawking mixture for years for a variety of ills

In this photo released by Colombia's Prosecutor's Press Office, a police officer and a soldier flank Mark Grenon, second left, and his son Joseph Grenon, during a raid in Santa Marta, Colombia on Tuesday. (Colombia's Prosecutor's Press Office/The Associated Press)

Colombian officials say they have arrested two Florida men wanted in the United States on charges they illegally sold a bleach-like chemical as a miracle cure for the new coronavirus and other diseases.

The Colombian prosecutor's office said Tuesday that Mark and Joseph Grennon were arrested in the beach town of Santa Marta, and were shipping their "Miracle Mineral Solution" — chlorine dioxide — from there to clients in the United States, Colombia and Africa.

Mark Grenon is the archbishop of the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, based in Bradenton, Fla., which is centred on use of the toxic chemical as a supposed sacrament it claims can cure a vast variety of illnesses ranging from cancer to autism to malaria and now COVID-19.

A Miami federal judge in April ordered the self-styled church to stop selling the substance, but it was ignored.

The organization also has operated in Mexico, Australia and other countries. Despite opposition from doctors and health experts, Bolivia's congress recently legalized use of the substance.

A federal criminal complaint filed in July charged Mark Grenon, 62, and his sons, Jonathan, 34, Jordan, 26, and Joseph, 32, with conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to violate the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and criminal contempt.

Records in Miami federal court last month did not list lawyers for any of the Grenons. They could face 14 or more years in prison if convicted of all charges.

The men have been hawking the substance for several years and promoting it as an antidote to a number of health issues and conditions, including autism. The Fifth Estate found in an investigation in 2016 that it had been sold in Canada despite Health Canada warnings. And a B.C. man two years later was convicted under the Food and Drug Act for marketing, packaging and selling MMS.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the solution sold by the Grenons becomes a bleach when ingested that is typically used for such things as treating textiles, industrial water, pulp and paper.

Authorities said drinking it could be fatal or lead to dangerous side effects such as severe vomiting or diarrhea or life-threatening low blood pressure.

In their announcement of the arrest, the Colombian authorities said that seven Americans had died ingesting the mixture but did not provide a source for that claim. The original release from U.S. officials does not attribute any specific deaths to the men and their company.

The FDA said in a news release last August that "ingesting these products is the same as drinking bleach. Consumers should not use these products, and parents should not give these products to their children for any reason." The FDA has not approved the solution for any health-related uses.

"The Genesis II Church of Health and Healing has actively and deliberately placed consumers at risk with their fraudulent Miracle Mineral Solution and Americans expect and deserve medical treatments that have been scientifically proven to be safe and effective," Catherine Hermsen, assistant commissioner of the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations, said last month in a statement.

The federal complaint says the Grenons initially agreed to abide by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams's order to stop selling the solution, then changed their tone in podcasts and emails to the judge herself.

"We will NOT be participating in any of your UNCONSTITUTIONAL Orders, Summons, etc," one email from Mark Grenon read. "Again and again I have written you all that ... you have NO authority over our Church."

With files from CBC News