Pseudoscience, conspiracy theories and potentially toxic chemicals being touted as a religious sacrament. That's what Eyewitness News found when we went undercover at a recent seminar held by the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing in Costa Mesa.
"That's why we wanted to do the church," Archbishop Mark Grenon told a room full of believers who'd each paid $450 to attend a seminar at the Ayres Hotel.
"Everybody start a church and do it from there. You can sell them anything! Tell them Jesus heals you while you drink this," Grenon said.
The Genesis II Church believes their sacrament, known as Miracle Mineral Solution or MMS, can cure virtually anything - from the common cold to cancer, autism and HIV.
"Yeah, I got people, we're curing people of major stuff just from that," Grenon told the crowd. "Just with the one drop an hour - from prostate cancer to brain cancer to autism."
The FDA, however, calls the so-called miracle treatment a "potent bleach" that can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and symptoms of severe dehydration.
Death in paradise
Doug Nash, a retired planetary geologist with NASA and former mayor of San Juan Capistrano, said he'd never heard of the Genesis II Church or MMS before his wife Sylvia Fink took it in August 2009.
"She tried it one time," Nash said. "And it caused her death in 12 hours."
Doug met Sylvia, a retired teacher from Mexico City, in early 2004. Doug was looking for a crew member to sail with him from Dana Point to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Sylvia answered the ad and soon the two fell in love.
"Things really clicked," Doug told Eyewitness News. "And eventually we got married."
The couple lived on and fell in love aboard Doug's sailboat, "Windcastle." For five years, they sailed from one exotic locale to the next -- Tahiti, Fiji, Tonga, Panama and New Zealand.
Doug said Sylvia made friends everywhere they went and especially loved to meet the local children.
"She was friendly, outgoing - just bursting with energy and enthusiasm," he said. "Everywhere we went, if music started up, she would immediately get up and dance."
In the summer of 2009, Doug and Sylvia sailed to Vanuatu, a small island nation in the South Pacific.
Sylvia was growing concerned about the threat of malaria at their next stop, the Solomon Islands. Doug said another couple sold Sylvia the MMS, claiming it could ward off malaria.
Doug said Sylvia mixed up the MMS according to instructions provided to her by the other couple.
"All of a sudden I heard her - 'yeck... that tastes awful.' When she swallowed it, she reacted to its terrible taste," Doug said. "Within 10 to 15 minutes, she was starting to tell me she didn't feel good. And from there, she got worse and worse in terms of nausea and vomiting and diarrhea."
Doug and Sylvia were in the middle of nowhere, anchored offshore from the tiny Vanuata island of Epi with no medical facility.
Initially, the couple was not overly concerned. Doug said the promotional material for MMS claimed that nausea and diarrhea meant that the MMS was working - they were supposedly signs that toxins were being flushed from the body.
"Hours went by and it didn't pass," Doug recalls. "I couldn't get any fluid into her. I knew dehydration was a danger."
Doug began looking through medical books he kept onboard the sailboat. "I realized this was all the symptoms of poisoning, toxic poisoning."
"I called for help. She was by that time really desperate," he added. "I put out a radio broadcast to all the boats, 'please, I need help, right away - severe medical.'"
Other sailors came on board and helped Doug perform CPR on Sylvia for nearly an hour. A nurse practitioner arrived and gave Sylvia a shot of adrenaline. But it was too late - Sylvia was gone.
"All of a sudden, and this is what haunts me, her eyes suddenly just flipped up like that," Doug explained to Eyewitness News. "I think that's the moment she died literally and she fell limp in my arms."
Sylvia's body was flown back to Port Vila, the capital city of Vanuatu, the next day. But it was two weeks before an autopsy could be performed. A pathologist had to fly into the island nation from Australia. In that time, Sylvia's body had been frozen and thawed at least one time, according to the autopsy report.
MMS on trial
The MMS Sylvia bought from the other sailors was manufactured by Daniel Smith of Spokane Washington and his company Project GreenLife.
Investigators with the FDA zeroed in on Smith after receiving a string of complaints from people who'd taken MMS.
Eyewitness News obtained those complaints which report serious reactions ranging from "unstoppable vomiting and diarrhea" to "life-threatening electrolyte abnormalities."
One unidentified person wrote, "the product called Miracle Mineral Supplement killed my mom."
Doug is one of the people who wrote to the FDA about MMS. Doug was contacted by the FDA in 2010, but investigators were ultimately unable to link Sylvia's death to MMS.
"The autopsy was inconclusive so we have not gone forward with this investigation looking at MMS as the cause of that death," said FDA Special Agent DaLi Borden in grand jury transcripts related to the indictment of Daniel Smith.
"I think the medical link was not proved due to a variety of circumstances, length of time till there was an autopsy, things like that," Borden told a grand jury in January 2013.
"They are selling bleach," said Benjamin Mizer, a principal deputy assistant general with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Although federal investigators could not link Sylvia's death to MMS, Mizer's team of prosecutors did go after Daniel Smith for illegally marketing MMS as a "miracle cure."
In October 2015, Smith was convicted and sentenced to more than four years in federal prison.
"MMS is not a cure," Mizer said. "They might as well be selling Clorox as a cure for cancer."
Daniel Smith is not a member of the church, but Genesis II supporters rallied support and raised money for Smith's legal defense.
MMS: Religious sacrament or snake oil?
Despite the FDA warning and the conviction of Daniel Smith, some believers still consider MMS their religious sacrament.
"We're (going to) stand up as a church," self-proclaimed Genesis II Archbishop Mark Grenon told attendees at the seminar held last month in Costa Mesa.
Eyewitness News cameras captured Grenon outlining a string of increasingly bizarre conspiracy theories:
Vaccines are part of an evil plan to reduce the world's population to half a billion.
Chemtrails are sinister poisons sprayed on us from the sky.
Those planes on 9/11? Holograms created by the government.
But the divine prophecy in the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing? MMS can cure virtually anything.
"Lung cancer, he wrote me, 'I coughed up a tumor,'" Grenon recounted of one man's story to the crowd. "The doctors were flabbergasted."
Before and after photos shown at the seminar purported to show miraculous healing, and not just in humans.
"What did you have on your dog, Ron?" Grenon asked one seminar attendee who claimed MMS cured his dog.
"There was a tumor on his adrenal gland," the man responded.
"Gone, right?" Grenon asked as the man nodded in agreement.
Sodium Chlorite, one of the main chemicals used in MMS, is typically used in industrial pesticides, wastewater treatment and hydraulic fracking.
"It is a poison," warns Mizer. "MMS yields a bleach product that should not be ingested, but could be used to clean your bathtub."
Still, Archbishop Mark Grenon insists that MMS is "not toxic, it's not dangerous at all."
Doug Nash, now a widower, disagrees.
"MMS killed my wife," he said. "I'll never forget her."
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