A Southern California doctor was sentenced to prison on Friday for trying to smuggle hydroxychloroquine into the US and hawk it as a “miracle cure” COVID-19 treatment, officials said.
Physician Jennings Ryan Staley, 44, admitted to working with a Chinese supplier to illegally import a barrel he believed to contain 26 pounds of the anti-malarial drug mislabeled as “yam extract,” according to court documents.
Staley admitted he wanted to sell hydroxychloroquine powder in capsules as part of his phony business plan.
He peddled COVID-19 “treatment kits” in March and April 2020 as the pandemic began spreading in the US and months before vaccinations were available.
Hydroxychloroquine was once touted by former President Donald Trump as a potential coronavirus treatment.
According to court documents, the doctor also sought investors in his venture — promising one person he could “triple your money in 90 days.”
Staley admitted to writing a prescription for the increasingly hard-to-find drug in his employee’s name and personal information. He answered the pharmacists’ questions to fill the script as if he was the employee without the employees’ consent, court docs show.
The COVID “treatment kits” were sold in and around San Diego at Staley’s Skinny Beach Med Spas locations.
Law enforcement was tipped off on the scam by several citizens concerned by the marketing campaign, federal prosecutors said.
The kits were sold in and around San Diego.DOJ
Staley described his kits as a “one hundred percent” cure, a “magic bullet,” an “amazing weapon,” and “almost too good to be true,” in conversations with an undercover FBI agent, according to court documents. The doctor promised the products would provide at least six weeks of immunity from the virus.
An undercover agent bought six of Staley’s “treatment kits” for $4,000. During a recorded phone call with the undercover agent, Staley bragged about how he “got the last tank of… hydroxychloroquine, smuggled out of China, Sunday night at 1:00 a.m. in the morning… the broker… smuggled it out, so to speak, otherwise tricked Customs by saying it was sweet potato extract,” documents show.
In a later phone call with the agent, Staley suddenly offered to throw in doses of generic Viagra and Xanax — a federally controlled substance — unsolicited. Staley never asked a single medical question during the transaction about the agent’s purported family members, including his three supposed juvenile children.
Staley additionally admitted to lying to federal officers during their investigation for denying that he had ever promised customers that his treatment was 100 percent effective, telling investigators “that would be foolish.”
He said that he “absolutely” collected relevant information from family members despite selling a “family pack” of hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, generic Viagra, Xanax, and azithromycin to the undercover officer a week earlier, without asking for any family members’ information.
Staley was charged with importation contrary to law and was sentenced to 30 days of custody and one year of house arrest, federal officials announced Friday.
A judge also ordered Staley to pay a $10,000 fine and forfeit the $4,000 he took from the undercover agent as well as over 4,500 tablets of various pharmaceuticals, several bags of empty pill capsules, and a manual capsule-filling machine, federal officials said.
“At the height of the pandemic, before vaccines were available, this doctor sought to profit from patients’ fears,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “He abused his position of trust and undermined the integrity of the entire medical profession. We are committed to enforcing the laws of the United States and protecting patients, including prosecuting doctors who choose to commit crimes.”