Man pleads guilty to defrauding victims of more than $2.7 million with pesticides alleged to help prevent Covid-19

Paul Andrecola

(CNN)A New Jersey man has pleaded guilty to charges he sold $2.7 million in pesticides he falsely claimed were effective against the coronavirus which causes Covid-19, federal prosecutors said.

Paul Andrecola, 63, of Maple Shade, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to 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," the US Attorney in New Jersey said in a release Thursday.
"Paul Andrecola's scheme profited on the fears of the American people during the height of concerns about transmission of COVID-19," US Attorney Philip Sellinger said.
Andrecola claimed the pesticides were registered with the Environmental Protection Agency as being effective against the virus, the release said. He made more than 150 sales of the pesticides from March 2020 through May 2021, according to the release.
Buyers included a medical clinic in Georgia, a police department in Delaware, a Virginia fire department and "numerous" US government agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the release said.
"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.
An attorney for Andrecola said his client "accepted responsibility for selling the product without the proper registration," but "the product was safe and effective against Covid."
"It was a formula that was as good, if not better than, anything on the market. It caused no physical harm to anyone who took it," the attorney, Charles H. Nugent Jr., told CNN in a statement. "Customers received value for their purchase. Customers who purchased it came back and purchased more. His company for whom he worked did not receive complaints."
Andrecola, who controls two companies and works for a third, made disinfectant liquids and wipes with the brand name GCLEAN, which were pesticides not registered under FIFRA and not on the EPA's "List N of Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2," the release said. Andrecola used another company's EPA registration numbers for his products and "falsely marketed that his products were EPA-approved to kill Coronavirus by creating numerous false documents to support his claims."
Andrecola will forfeit the more than $2.7 million proceeds from the sales and "make full restitution for all losses resulting from his commission of the charged crimes," as part of the plea agreement, prosecutors said.
The wire fraud count is punishable by a maximum 20-year prison sentence, and the false claims against the US carries a maximum penalty of five years, according to the release. The count of selling an unregistered pesticide carries a maximum one-year sentence. Andrecola may also be subject to fines more than twice the gross profits made, the release said.