O.C. company profited off fake coronavirus tests, prosecutors say
A Huntington Beach company promised buyers an FDA-approved coronavirus home testing kit with results in 10 minutes.
It pitched a disinfectant approved by the Environmental Protection Agency that could keep the virus off surfaces for 28 days.
It backed its claims up with what it said was a scientific study.
But Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer on Wednesday said those approvals and even the study were all works of fiction by Wellness Matrix Group and its principal executives, George Todt and Barry Migliorini. Labeling the products scams, Feuer is seeking a court order in Los Angeles County Superior Court barring the firm from selling coronavirus home testing kits and its disinfectant products. Company officials did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
Feuer’s lawsuit alleges the company committed unfair, fraudulent and dangerous business practices tied to its at-home tests and numerous disinfectant products and seeks full restitution for consumers and civil penalties. Feuer’s actions come as criminal investigators from the Food and Drug Administration are examining Wellness Matrix Group practices with regard to its coronavirus products.
“It’s inexcusable to try to profit from this pandemic at the expense of people’s health. We allege these defendants have been doing just that, engaging in a pattern of misrepresentation to boost their sales that includes fabricating a study to help pitch one of their products, claiming to have government approvals they’ve never had, and more,” Feuer said. “During this health crisis, we’ll continue to be especially vigilant about protecting an anxious public from those who would try to take advantage of them.”
Feuer said the firm exploited people’s fear about the virus by offering at-home COVID-19 serology, or antibody, test kits that allegedly produced results in 10 minutes and that it falsely claimed were FDA-approved for such a use.
Under the law, a manufacturer’s at-home medical diagnostic test cannot be sold in California or anywhere else in the nation unless it has FDA approval. The FDA has never approved at-home serology tests. But the lawsuit alleges Todt and Migliorini continued making these false claims while selling tests in California.
Feuer said the test kits may have placed people in danger with false negatives that made people think it was safe to be around others.
The firm also sold and advertised COVID-19 disinfectant products, from 2-ounce bottles for personal use to 55-gallon drums intended for large-scale disinfection. Feuer and the lawsuit allege that the firm promoted the disinfectant by describing it as an EPA-approved product.
Wellness Matrix Group has previously insisted its testing kits work after company executives were confronted by a National Public Radio reporter about the lack of approvals.
Feuer said to bolster sales, the firm allegedly attached false EPA registration numbers to its products and fabricated scientific studies and white papers to substantiate its claims. The sale of disinfectant products is highly regulated by state and federal governments. The defendants sold COVID-19 disinfectants that are apparently not listed with either the EPA or the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.
The company, according to the suit, said its products can be applied directly to the skin, are nontoxic and environmentally friendly. Also included in their advertising is a research paper, supposedly authored by a professor of medicine. But this too is a work of fiction, said Feuer. The suit alleges the researcher’s name and credentials were stolen and added to the doctored study to give the appearance that it supported the firm’s products, Feuer told reporters Wednesday.
Feuer’s action comes after Wellness Matrix Group became the subject of an investigation by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform. Feuer previously sent a letter demanding the firm substantiate its advertising claims and notifying it of California’s unfair competition and false advertising laws.
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