Acting United States Attorney Jan Sharp announced that Brandon Weber, age 47, of Lincoln, was sentenced May 20, 2021 by United States Magistrate Judge Cheryl R. Zwart to one year of probation for the Unlawful Sale of an Unregistered Pesticide. Weber was ordered to pay a $300 fine.
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), 7 U.S.C. § 136 et seq., regulates the distribution, sale, and use of all pesticides in the United States, including antimicrobial pesticides. Antimicrobial pesticides are substances used to destroy or suppress the growth of harmful microorganisms – such as the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 – on inanimate objects and surfaces. All pesticides distributed or sold in the United States must be registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”). Registrants of antimicrobial pesticide products that claim to control microbes that pose a threat to public health must additionally submit efficacy data to support these public health claims.
On April 5, 2020, Weber posted an advertisement on Craigslist for a product he advertised as “Ionic Colloidal Silver.” The April 5, 2020, advertisement’s title was “Disinfectant to help with Homemade Mask - $15.” On April 6, 2020, Weber posted a second advertisement titled “Disinfectant*-Antibacterial – Ionic Colloidal Silver – 20ppm - $15.” Both advertisements were made for the geographic location of the Lincoln, Nebraska area. The listings claimed the ionic colloidal silver product could “be sprayed on your homemade mask material and when the germs come in contact with the ionic silver particles, the silver destroys their DNA structure and kills them.” The ads further stated, “[t]he added benefit of using this type of disinfectant is that the microscopic silver ions remain on the material to kill future germs when contact is made. Just respray as you feel necessary.” Additionally, the listings referenced a document titled “EPA-Registered Ionic Silver Disinfectant Effective Against 2009 H1N1 Flu Strain.”
On April 16, 2020, an undercover agent with the EPA contacted Weber to set up a controlled purchase of the “Ionic Colloidal Silver” product. The undercover agent met with Weber on April 17, 2020, to purchase five one-gallon bottles of the ionic colloidal silver product at a cost of $40 per gallon for a total of $200. During this meeting, Weber told the undercover agent he was producing this product at his home and could produce five to ten gallons per day. Weber instructed the undercover agent to spray the product directly onto cloth masks or clothes and that the product could be used as a hand sanitizer. Weber gave the undercover agent documentation and a list of reference materials. The documents included one study, entitled “Antibacterial activity of silver-killed bacteria: the ‘zombies’ effect” and a compilation of various product advertisements with the title “This article is provided for referance [sic] use only to explain how ionic silver works as a [sic] antibacterial.” That same day, Weber delivered a one-quart sample of the “Ionic Colloidal Silver” to the Nebraska State Patrol along with reference materials about the product. Weber knew this product was not registered with the EPA.
On April 22, 2020, a search warrant was executed at Weber’s residence in Lincoln, Nebraska. During the execution of the search warrant, law enforcement located a machine to manufacture the “Ionic Colloidal Silver” product and other products associated with the manufacture of the product. Weber was interviewed and admitted to posting the advertisements to sell the “Ionic Colloidal Silver,” selling the “Ionic Colloidal Silver” to the undercover agent and distributing a sample to the Nebraska State Patrol.
The “Ionic Colloidal Silver” product that was sold by Weber to the undercover agent was submitted to the EPA’s National Enforcement Investigations Center (NEIC) for testing. The NEIC found that the concentration of silver was greater than the 20ppm of total silver that Weber represented.
“The defendant in this case put personal profit above the safety of consumers by marketing and selling an unregistered disinfectant over the Internet,” said Lance Ehrig, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in Nebraska. “EPA and our law enforcement partners will continue to focus efforts on stopping the sale of these illegal products. Consumers can help protect themselves by visiting epa.gov/coronavirus for a list of EPA approved disinfectant products.”
This case was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency-Criminal Investigation Division. EPA-CID was assisted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Internal Revenue Service during the execution of the search warrant at Weber’s residence.
Department of Justice
Office of the U.S. Attorney
District of Nebraska