Doug Nash says his wife, Sylvia Fink, died shortly after taking MMS in 2009. She was 56. (Courtesy of Doug Nash)

It wasn’t hard to see why the Justice Department prosecuted Louis Daniel Smith for selling misbranded drugs. By their account, the 46-year-old was selling a substance that he claimed could cure everything from cancer to AIDS to asthma but was, in reality, a type of bleach.

Smith was convicted last year and is now serving a sentence of four years and three months in federal prison. But his miracle cure, dismissed as fake by the Food and Drug Administration, continues to be promoted by its devoted, anti-pharmaceutical-industry advocates. They say they’re unafraid of the authorities because they’re not selling the substance but simply spreading their religious values.

“As long as I’m just telling you about it, it’s just education,” said 78-year-old Floyd Jerred, a bishop in the Genesis II Church of Health & Healing, which has made the elixir the centerpiece of its religion. “And if they do lock me up, I know how to do out-of-body travel. I can go anywhere, see anything I want to see anyway.”

The case of MMS, also known as Miracle Mineral Solution or Miracle Mineral Supplement, illustrates a persistent problem for federal regulators and prosecutors. People seeking a quick way to get cured — or to get healthier, skinnier or stronger — are willing to try untested products, and some in the supplement industry prey on their hopes.

Federal prosecutors have recently been cracking down. A Justice Department spokesman said year-by-year data was not available, but in November the department announced it had brought civil or criminal cases against more than 100 makers and marketers of dietary supplements as part of a sweep.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch noted the aggressive enforcement in a video message released Tuesday. In one indictment, prosecutors alleged that the distributors of two popular workout and weight-loss supplements — Jack3d and OxyElite Pro — lied about the ingredients in their products and knew of studies linking them to liver toxicity.

But MMS and testimonials about its effectiveness continue to proliferate online, largely because of the Genesis II Church of Health & Healing. Church leaders put on costly seminars for people to learn more about the product, and one later this month in Houston asks people for “$500 cash at the door,” according to an online listing.

Benjamin C. Mizer, the principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil division, said supplements are not subject to standards as rigorous as those for FDA-approved drugs. MMS, he said, represents a “particularly egregious” case.

“The people who are promoting and distributing MMS are telling people to ingest bleach, and that is not good for anyone,” Mizer said.

The church’s founder, Jim Humble, a reclusive man now in his 80s, declined to comment for this story via email. “I don’t call reporters, and you all know why,” he said. He has defended MMS repeatedly in videos and other materials on his website, noting that FDA-approved drugs also cause ill effects and deaths.

“The governments throughout the world are paid, they all receive a certain amount of monies, from the pharmaceutical companies throughout the world, and so they, the governments, prevent the use of MMS, they make laws against it, or they just tell their police to start stopping it,” he said in a video interview posted on the church’s website.

The church doesn’t sell MMS directly, although its site will direct you to suppliers selling a basic kit for $21.50 and a 24-pack for $320. It is taken only a few drops at a time, and church officials say it should be combined with citric acid as an activator. (Prosecutors say that creates chlorine dioxide, an agent used to bleach textiles.)

The FDA has warned against MMS since 2010, alleging that users have reported “severe nausea, vomiting, and life-threatening low blood pressure from dehydration.” An FDA spokesman said the agency received 16 adverse incident reports from users from 2004 to early 2016, including one death. That number could be low, however, as those distributing MMS tell users that some negative side effects, at least initially, are to be expected.

Authorities in other countries — including Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom — have also warned against using MMS.

Doug Nash, 83, said his wife, Sylvia Fink, who hoped to ward off malaria, took MMS while the two were on a sailing trip in the South Pacific in the summer of 2009, and he thought at the time it was as harmless as taking a vitamin. Fink, though, got sick almost immediately and died, Nash said. An autopsy was inconclusive, but Nash said he is convinced MMS killed his wife, a 56-year-old teacher.

“My wife had no idea what she was stepping into when she bought that stuff, and of course I didn’t either,” he said.

Smith, convicted along with three others for selling MMS, was not explicitly tied to the church, though its members are vocal supporters of the four defendants. He operated a business called Project GreenLife — selling MMS online as a way to battle AIDS, hepatitis, typhoid, cancer, herpes, even bird and swine flu — and he created fake websites to imply his suppliers’ materials were being used for water purification.

Smith’s father agreed to forward a reporter’s request for comment to his son, who is representing himself, but Smith did not respond.

Mizer said the Justice Department is “not here to comment on their beliefs, but if they are promoting a product and claiming that it will cure diseases, they are subjecting themselves to the jurisdiction of the FDA and the Justice Department, and we won’t hesitate to prosecute bad actors,” he said. He declined to comment on whether the church or its leaders were being investigated.

The church’s website says it is headquartered in the Dominican Republic, although it lists locations across the United States and claimed that as of December 2014 it had “trained 1400+ Health Ministers in 110+ countries around the globe.” At a recent seminar in California, an ABC7 Eyewitness news reporter found a leader touting the product while outlining a broad array of conspiracy theories, including that the planes hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001, were government-created holograms and vaccines are part of a plan to reduce the world’s population.