The email advertisements from Skinny Beach Med Spa in San Diego started flooding inboxes late last month. Only instead of hawking beauty-related services, the promotions allegedly proffered a false “miracle cure” for the novel coronavirus, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
In the latest case of alleged coronavirus-related fraud, Jennings Ryan Staley, a licensed physician and the spa’s operator, was charged Thursday with mail fraud after authorities say he attempted to sell “covid-19 treatment packs,” claiming that the “concierge medicine experience” could both cure those with the virus and ensure immunity from infection for at least six weeks.
Customers willing to shell out $3,995 would receive enough medication for a family of four, according to a news release from the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of California. Authorities said the packs included hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, a combination of medicine that has been touted by President Trump as a potential treatment, among other drugs. So far there is no scientifically proven treatment for coronavirus.
“We will not tolerate covid-19 fraudsters who try to profit and take advantage of the pandemic fear to cheat, steal and harm others,” U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer Jr. said in the release. “Rest assured: those who engage in this despicable conduct will find themselves in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors.”
The FBI began investigating Staley, 44, after receiving a tip about the treatment packs, installing an undercover agent to pose as a potential buyer, the release said.
In a recorded phone call with the agent, Staley touted the medicine as a “magic bullet,” insisting that it would cure covid-19 “100 percent,” according to prosecutors.
“It’s preventative and curative. It’s hard to believe, it’s almost too good to be true,” Staley allegedly told the agent. “But it’s a remarkable clinical phenomenon.”
Staley, who later allegedly denied making such statements, is also accused of smuggling hydroxychloroquine from China.
The charge against Staley comes just days after the FBI issued a warning to the public about health care fraud schemes emerging amid the ongoing pandemic.
An attorney representing Staley did not respond to a request for comment. The physician faces up to 20 years in prison and is scheduled to be arraigned Friday afternoon.