A Phoenix marijuana dispensary stopped just short of saying it had a COVID-19 cure.
But YiLo Superstore did say it had a Coronavirus “immunization stabilizer tincture” that you could mix with water “should you come down with a life-threatening virus.”
YiLo advertised the sodium chlorite solution as a virus killer and an immune system builder on its website under the headings, “CoronaV instructions” and “a word on Coronavirus.”
The Arizona Attorney General’s Office has another word for the product: Fraud.
State regulators on Friday hit YiLo with a cease and desist order, saying the advertisement appeared to violate the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act.
“In the absence of scientific evidence, an advertisement suggesting that a product could provide immunization against COVID-19 creates a misrepresentation and a false promise of a medical preventative or cure,” the AG’s senior litigation counsel wrote in the order.
The order, addressed to YiLoLife LLC owner Carsten Loelke, demanded the company stop selling and advertising the tincture by Saturday afternoon and warned of fines up to $10,000.
“Exploiting vulnerable patients’ health concerns by selling fake cures or treatments for a serious disease is wrong,” Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in a statement.
Scammers try to capitalize on the coronavirus
Cures and immune-boosting elixirs are among the latest scams following the Coronavirus in its community spread.
COVID-19 schemes are attacking the wallets and common sense of consumers across the country. Scams include fake stimulus package offers, phishing and identity theft attempts and phony pop-up virus testing tents.
Arizona has seen its own spike in virus-related scams. Shopping thieves are working neighborhoods, preying on those less able to get out for essentials. Other people offering fake sanitizing services are going door-to-door. Electronic scammers are using robocalls, official-looking emails and bogus government communications to bang on virtual doors.
An event scheduled for Phoenix last month promised supernatural protections against COVID-19, according to the attorney general’s office.
“The Internet has been flooded with ads for sham treatments such as hand soaps, supplements, toothpastes, and essential oils,” Brnovich warned in March. “There currently is no vaccination for COVID-19 and there is no proven product to cure the virus.”
No response from YiLo owner, manager
YiLo’s owner and its manager did not return email or phone messages Friday or Saturday.
Clerks at at the store on Thunderbird Road near Interstate 17 said “CoronaV” was pulled off the shelves but offered mixed messages about how long it was for sale.
One clerk said it was removed on Thursday after “only being up for a day.” Another clerk said they hadn’t sold CoronaV “in a really long time,” then acknowledged it was in the process of being shipped back to its supplier.
“We’re not selling it to anybody,” the clerk said, referring all questions to the manager. “It’s being processed to go back.”
YiLo’s website no longer advertises the tincture. It previously instructed users on a two-step solium chlorite and hydrochloric acid drop solution that could be mixed into a cup of water (plastic only, never metal, it warned).
“If you feel better after the taking the first two doses, reduce your intake to three activated drops in a half cup of water every hour for eight hours a day, until completely well,” the instructions stated.
It advised cutting the dose by half if it made you feel worse.
Sodium chlorite is an inorganic salt used as a bleach in the paper-manufacturing process. It often has been touted as a cure-all, but the Food and Drug Administration has been warning about it since 2010. Health officials say it can induce vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration.
If that isn’t enough to keep you from going bottoms up, hydrochloric acid is exactly what it sounds like, a corrosive acid and chemical reagent often used in the production of plastic and paper.
YiLo said on its website that the combination of sodium and food-grade acid creates a chlorine dioxide, a strong disinfectant most consumers would know better as industrial-strength bleach.
On its now defunct web pages, YiLo said the stabilizer “could kill many of the diseases of mankind.” It added, “there is every reason for many to believe it can be effective in stooping and preventing the current novel Coronavirus going around today.”
YiLo last month offered a 10% discount on wholesale orders. And at least one customer praised its healing qualities, saying the CoronaV always leaves his stomach with a little burn.
“I can tell that the bleach in it is working after I take a few drops,” the customer wrote in a March 25 post.
Loelke and his wife opened YiLo Superstore in 2015. Their business appears to be expanding. In documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, they described YiLo “as the fastest growing seed-to-shelf marijuana-related brand in Arizona.”
Loelke, 63, is a former real estate broker and contractor from Florida. He and his wife got into the marijuana business in 2011, starting with dispensaries in Bisbee and Springerville.
The Loelkes operate under a nonprofit called the Natural Relief Clinic, which is licensed in Arizona to grow, produce and sell medical marijuana and edibles. The company has two dispensaries and a cultivation site.
NRC is YiLo’s exclusive supplier. The company’s Springerville dispensary license was transferred to Phoenix in 2015.
The Loelkes also operate several related business in Arizona, California and New Mexico under the YiLoLife Inc., brand. SEC records shows the “family of companies” include real estate, development, management, supply, CBD and food products.
Neither Loelke nor his wife has any criminal convictions, according to court records.
The Attorney General’s Office said misrepresentations and false promises are illegal and ordered Loelke to preserve all written and electronic records related to COVID-19 in anticipation of fraud litigation.
“The (Attorney General’s Office) will not tolerate attempts by businesses to prey on the fears of Arizonans during this public crisis,” the order stated.
Robert Anglen investigates consumer issues for The Republic. If you’re the victim of fraud, waste or abuse, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-8694. Follow him on Twitter @robertanglen.
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