Man accused of falsely claiming air purifier kills COVID-19

KATE BRUMBACK

ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia man is accused of falsely claiming that an air purifier he was selling would kill the coronavirus, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Stephen Matthew “Matt” Shumaker, of Marietta, had postcards sent to thousands of Georgia residents claiming that the Beyond Guardian Air air purifier kills “every known major viral and bacterial infection,” including the coronavirus and COVID-19, according to a sworn statement from a postal inspector filed in federal court in Atlanta.

The postcards, which were mailed in March and include a photo of the air purifier, feature a red box with white type that says: “KILL COVID-19, CORONAVIRUS IN YOUR HOME!!" according to a copy included in the postal inspector's statement.

“Shumaker allegedly used the COVID-19 pandemic to sell a product that does not provide the benefits he advertised,” U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said in a news release.

Shumaker, 43, is charged with mail fraud and knowingly distributing and selling a misbranded pesticidal device.

Federal prosecutors said Shumaker has been arrested. Online court records did not list an attorney who could comment on the charges.

The postal inspector opened the investigation in April after a Georgia resident reported receiving a suspicious postcard in the mail. The postal inspector found that the phone number on the card was registered to Pure Life Water Corp, which is run by Shumaker.

The company that printed the postcards produced correspondence from a person identified as the public relations director for Pure Life Water Corp that said messaging about the machine's ability to kill COVID-19 should take up most of the space, according to the postal inspector's statement.

The statement added that the printing company was also told that Shumaker “couldn’t stress enough that he wants that phrase to pop, be BIG, and be the main focus,” according to the postal inspector’s statement.

An undercover agent called the company and spoke to an employee, who claimed tat the air purifier would kill the coronavirus, the statement says. After the undercover agent ordered the air purifier, Shumaker himself called and, during the conversation, said, the air purifier "produces microscopic hydroxyls, which is hydrogen peroxide. They came out yesterday and said it kills the Coronavirus Virus on the spot. Hydroxyls kills things in the air and on surfaces.”

The employee told the undercover agent that the company was selling about 20 of the air purifiers a day throughout Georgia and that the price, including shipping, was $2,000, the postal inspector's statement says.

When the air purifier arrived, there was nothing in the packaging or enclosed pamphlet that said it would kill the coronavirus or COVID-19, the postal inspector's statement says.

At the time of the mailing, the Environmental Protection Agency had not received the efficacy testing necessary to claim that a product or device could kill COVID-19 from any seller of pesticide products or devices. Therefore, the assertion that the air purifier kills the coronavirus and COVID-19 is false and misleading, the postal inspector concluded.

The postcards also included other false or misleading statements, including the air purifier's ability protect air and surfaces and to kill all major viral and bacterial infections, the postal inspector's statement says.

“Selling a misbranded pesticidal device as a protection for COVID-19 gives unsuspecting buyers a false sense of hope and places them in danger,” said acting Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations operations in Georgia and Alabama.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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