'Miracle' coronavirus 'cure' leads to fraud charge for California doctor

$3,995 treatment was 'fraudulent,' prosecutors say

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FBI agents raided the office of a California doctor who prosecutors said sold a phony $3,995 COVID-19 “cure.”

Dr. Jennings Ryan Staley, the operator of Skinny Beach Med Spa in San Diego, is facing a charge of mail fraud, U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer Jr. announced Thursday.

Staley, who typically offers services like Botox, hair removal and fat transfer, began marketing the pricey “COVID-19 treatment packs” in March with medications like hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin and “anti-anxiety treatments to help you avoid panic if needed and help you sleep,” according to the complaint.

DON’T BUY THESE ‘FALSE’ CORONAVIRUS TREATMENT CLAIMS, FTC WARNS

The FBI had an agent pose as a customer and recorded a call in which Staley described the offering as “an amazing cure” and “a miracle cure” that would cure the virus “100 percent,” according to the complaint. He claimed the treatment would make a user “immune for at least six weeks,” calling it “a magic bullet.”

“It’s preventative and curative,” he said in the recorded call. “It’s hard to believe, it’s almost too good to be true. But it’s a remarkable clinical phenomenon.”

Staley later denied that he’d made the statements, saying it “would be foolish,” authorities said.

“We would never say anything like that,” he claimed to investigators.

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Authorities said Staley offered would-be customers Xanax as part of the treatment and shipped the Schedule IV drug without any medical examination. He had also told customers that he had a broker smuggling hydroxychloroquine from China concealed in a shipment as sweet potato extract, and shipping records showed he has a shipment of “yam extract” due to arrive in the U.S. in days, according to the complaint.

“We will not tolerate COVID-19 fraudsters who try to profit and take advantage of the pandemic fear to cheat, steal and harm others,” Brewer said. “Rest assured: those who engage in this despicable conduct will find themselves in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors.”

If convicted, Staley faces as much as 20 years in prison plus a fine.

The FBI has been warning Americans about coronavirus-related scams, and authorities said they’ve already made several scam-related arrests. Omer Meisel, the acting special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Diego field office, said the bureau would continue to “vigorously” investigate the sale of false cures.

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“The FBI is using a variety of tools to identify anyone who exploits the current crisis with fraudulent scams or a variety of cyber schemes – and is proactively warning the public about products claiming to save lives, before losing their money or creating false hope,” Meisel said.

The Federal Trade Commission has also warned consumers about coronavirus-related fraud. The commission said it has received more than 18,000 reports of fraud with losses totaling more than $13.4 million related to COVID-19.

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