Feds charge Carmel Valley physician who allegedly offered COVID-19 ‘miracle cure’
Dr. Jennings Staley of Skinny Beach Med Spa allegedly shipped a package to an undercover FBI agent containing drugs he said could cure and prevent COVID-19
A San Diego physician sold an undercover FBI agent a “COVID-19 management program” that included an anti-malarial drug touted by President Donald Trump, claiming the drug and his program could both cure COVID-19 and prevent someone from contracting it, federal prosecutors alleged Thursday, April 16.
Dr. Jennings Ryan Staley, who runs Skinny Beach Med Spa in Carmel Valley, allegedly called his treatment — which included the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine — a “magic bullet” and “miracle cure” that was “perfectly engineered,” according to an FBI agent’s probable cause statement.
Staley allegedly advertised the treatment as a “concierge medical package” that costs $3,995 for a family of four, and allegedly shipped the undercover agent a package containing hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, generic versions of Xanax and Viagra, and azithromycin — an antibiotic often called a Z-Pak that’s used to treat sexually transmitted infections and other conditions — which Trump has also promoted as a potential coronavirus treatment.
“It’s preventative and curative. It’s hard to believe, it’s almost too good to be true,” Staley told the undercover FBI agent during an April 3 phone call, according to court documents. “But it’s a remarkable clinical phenomenon.”
Reached by text Thursday, April 16, Staley referred questions to his lawyer. The attorney, Patrick Griffin, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment, though a woman who answered the phone at Griffin’s office said the firm had recently been retained.
Staley, 44, is scheduled to be arraigned Friday, April 17, in U.S. District Court in San Diego on one count of mail fraud.
In an interview with 10News last month that apparently helped prompt the FBI investigation, Staley defended his treatment program and said his family had received death threats from people claiming he was unethical.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, but on March 28 authorized its use on a limited, emergency basis.
The FDA authorized the use of hydroxychloroquine only from the Strategic National Stockpile, and only for hospitalized COVID-19 patients “for whom a clinical trial is not available, or participation is not feasible.”
Prosecutors say Staley obtained his hydroxychloroquine by smuggling it from China and allegedly said patients could take it to cure COVID-19 or ward off the disease.
According to the probable cause statement, two FBI investigators interviewed Staley on April 10, a day after the shipment of drugs he sent to the undercover FBI agent was delivered.
During the interview, Staley denied guaranteeing to customers that his treatment package was 100 percent effective, according to court documents.
“No, that would be foolish,” Staley allegedly told the FBI interviewers. “We would never say anything like that.”
According to the FBI, Staley had claimed in the phone call with the federal agent that “you could be short of breath and coughing at noon today, and if I start your hydroxychloroquine loading dose, you’ll feel 99 (percent) better by noon tomorrow.”
Staley allegedly told the undercover agent that he had “got the last tank of hydroxychloroquine smuggled out of China” and that his broker “tricked customs” by claiming it was sweet potato extract.
Prosecutors said shipping records confirmed that Staley was importing “yam extract” that was scheduled to arrive “in a matter of days.”
The FBI in recent weeks has repeatedly warned the public to beware COVID-19 scams and urged potential fraud victims to make a report with the FBI’s San Diego field office at (858) 320-1800, online at tips.fbi.gov or with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.
— Alex Riggins is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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