A California doctor has been charged with fraud for selling coronavirus treatment packs online that included hydroxychloroquine, the disputed drug that Donald Trump touts as the cure to COVID-19.
Jennings Ryan Staley, 44, a licensed physician and the owner of Skinny Beach Med Spa in San Diego was charged with mail fraud on Thursday, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California announced.
He sold ‘COVID-19 treatment packs’ that included the medications hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin in a ‘concierge medicine experience’ that retailed at $3,995 for a family of four.
The package also included access to Dr. Staley and ‘anti-anxiety treatments to help you avoid panic if needed and help you sleep’, prosecutors say.
Dr. Staley’s lawyer claims he was following the example of President Trump and the executive branch of government in prescribing the drugs.
California Dr. Jennings Ryan Staley, 44, was charged with mail fraud on Thursday for selling ‘COVID-19 treatment packs’ that included hydroxychloroquine and claiming it cured the novel coronavirus
A view of Staley’s ‘COVID-19’ pack pictured above. It came with medications hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin and anti-anxiety treatments
While Trump has hailed hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug, as a ‘100 percent’ cure to COVID-19, doctors warn there’s limited evidence surrounding the drug’s actual benefits.
However, medics have been subscribing it to coronavirus patients for weeks now as the drug is known to calm the immune system, though there have been no intensive clinical trials showing the drug works against COVID-19.
Some early reports from doctors in China and France said that hydroxychloroquine, at times combined with the antibiotic azithromycin, seemed to help COVID-19 patients.
Skinny Beach Med Spa offers beauty-related services including Botox, hair removal, and fat transfer. They started advertising the packs in late March and the FBI opened an investigation following a tip.
Dr. Staley told an undercover FBI agent over the phone that he was selling the antimalarial medication identified as hydroxychloroquine saying it ‘cures the disease’.
‘It’s preventative and curative,’ he said, according to prosecutors. ‘It’s hard to believe, it’s almost too good to be true. But it’s a remarkable clinical phenomenon.’
Staley told an undercover FBI agent over the phone the drug ‘cures the disease’ and is a ‘remarkable clinical phenomenon’
Skinny Beach Med Spa offers beauty-related services including Botox, hair removal, and fat transfer. They started advertising the packs in late March and the FBI opened an investigation following a tip
In that phone call he mentioned another antimalarial drug called mefloquine that he said he would sell if he ran out of hydroxychloroquine.
He said both drugs could completely cure the novel coronavirus and that the treatment would make a person immune for at least six weeks.
He later told the agent: ‘There are no guarantees in life. There are no guarantees of anything.’
A week later Staley was interviewed by the FBI and said it ‘would be foolish’ to tell patients the treatments are 100 percent effective in combating COVID-19.
‘We will not tolerate Covid-19 fraudsters who try to profit and take advantage of the pandemic fear to cheat, steal and harm others,’ Robert S. Brewer Jr., the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, said in the statement.
‘Rest assured: those who engage in this despicable conduct will find themselves in the cross hairs of federal prosecutors,’ he added.
Dr. Staley’s lawyer Patrick Griffin said that his client was following the example of the executive branch of the government in prescribing the drugs.
He claims he’s being unfairly prosecuted.
Dr. Staley’s lawyer Patrick Griffin said that his client was following the example of the executive branch of the government in prescribing the drugs including hydroxychloroquine. Stock image of hydroxychloroquine pills above
‘The same executive branch that has been touting these two medications for weeks has now turned around and criminally charged an Iraq veteran, Dr. Staley, no criminal record, for doing exactly the same thing that the administration’s been doing this whole time,’ Griffin said in a statement to the New York Times.
Griffin argued his client truly believed he was aiding people and said the treatment packs were sold at a fair price.
He said Staley even gave the undercover agent ‘two for free. The opposite of scamming someone.’
Griffin said, ‘really what we have here is a dispute about what a physician feels is in the best interests of his patients.’
However, Assistant U. S. Attorney Robert Huie said the case is about the false curative claims made about the medication.
‘Our case is not about the doctor touting drugs. It’s not about whether drugs are good or bad, it’s about him telling patients, telling would-be customers, in an effort to sell his services, that what he’s offering is a 100 percent cure and it confers temporary immunity.’
Staley faces up to 20 years in jail if convicted.