A California doctor is facing up to 20 years in federal prison after admitting he marketed a bogus Covid treatment in the early days of the pandemic for which he illegally obtained large amounts of hydroxychloroquine—the medication pushed by former President Donald Trump that research proved to be ineffective against Covid-19.
San Diego-based physician Jennings Ryan Staley pleaded guilty on Friday to a charge of importation contrary to law, which comes with a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
During March and April 2020, Staley sold treatment kits he falsely marketed as being a “one hundred percent” cure and a “magic bullet” against Covid-19, while the U.S. was in the midst of its first Covid surge.
The kits contained hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that multiple trials showed to be ineffective as a treatment for Covid-19.
To get the hydroxychloroquine, Staley at one point wrote a prescription in one of his employee’s names and then picked up the drug without the employee’s knowledge.
Staley also planned to smuggle more than 26 pounds of hydroxychloroquine powder into the U.S. by mislabeling the drug as “yam extract,” as part of agreement he made with a Chinese supplier.
Additionally, Staley admitted he lied to federal investigators by claiming he never marketed his kits as a surefire treatment for Covid-19.
$4,000. That’s how much an undercover federal agent paid for six of Staley’s treatment kits, according to the Justice Department.
“Dr. Staley offered a ‘magic bullet’ – a guaranteed cure for COVID-19 to people gripped in fear during a global pandemic,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner said in a statement. “Today, Dr. Staley admitted it was all a lie as part of a scam to make a quick buck.”
The arrival of the pandemic in the U.S. coincided with an enormous spike in prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine, which was investigated as one of the first potential Covid therapeutics. Health experts had always expressed skepticism about whether the drug would be proven effective against Covid, but that didn’t stop Trump from repeatedly making statements such as, “It’s looking like it’s having some good results.” Trump even took his own regimen of hydroxychloroquine in May 2020, at a time when study after study was showing the drug didn’t work against Covid-19. Trump went on to catch Covid-19 in October and had to be hospitalized. The lack of reliable treatment options also led to numerous other unproven and dangerous cures being marketed, like a Florida family that was accused of selling tens of thousands of bottles of toxic bleach they branded as “Miracle Mineral Solution.”
A California-based naturopathic doctor was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly making fake vaccine cards and marketing oral pills as providing lifelong protection against Covid-19.