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San Diego physician facing new charges in false COVID-19 cure case

Biomedical research director says he was ousted for opposing virus drug Trump touted
Posted at 2:10 PM, Dec 03, 2020

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A San Diego physician already facing a federal mail fraud charge for allegedly selling a false COVID-19 cure has been indicted on new charges of impersonating one of his employees to obtain hydroxychloroquine, making false statements to investigators and importing what he believed was hydroxychloroquine smuggled out of China, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced Thursday.

Dr. Jennings Ryan Staley, 44, who formerly operated Skinny Beach Med Spas in and around San Diego, was indicted on the latest charges Wednesday by a federal grand jury. In addition to mail fraud, he's now charged in a superseding indictment with importation contrary to law, making false statements, and aggravated identity theft.

Staley was originally charged earlier this year for allegedly marketing and selling pricey "COVID-19 treatment packs," described as a "concierge medicine experience" priced as high as $3,995 for a family of four. Prosecutors allege he paid roughly $1 per tablet of hydroxychloroquine included in the kits.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said Staley's marketing materials stated customers should "NOT BELIEVE THE REPORTS THAT HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE DOESN'T WORK!" and he allegedly told an undercover FBI agent who posed as a customer that the purported treatment was a "magic bullet" and a "miracle cure."

When asked whether the treatment kit would cure someone infected with COVID-19, he allegedly said, "One hundred percent," but later denied ever making the claim.

The U.S. Attorney's Office alleges he tried to solicit investments for his COVID-19 cure venture, telling one customer and prospective investor that he sought a $25,000 minimum investment and aimed to raise $350,000 total. He allegedly promised the customer that she would be repaid "triple your money in 90 days."

Prosecutors allege Staley obtained hydroxychloroquine pills in several ways, including by soliciting them from acquaintances and employees with preexisting hydroxychloroquine prescriptions, and writing prescriptions for immediate family members and acquaintances to get the drugs "by any means necessary."

He allegedly wrote a fake hydroxychloroquine prescription using the name, date of birth and prior home address of one of his employees, and took the prescription to multiple pharmacies in an attempt to obtain the drug. He also allegedly pretended to be her while ordering pills online.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said Staley falsely claimed to investigators that the employee had allowed him to use her pre-existing medical condition to get hydroxychloroquine tablets.

Staley also allegedly tried to obtain hydroxychloroquine through a Chinese supplier by lying to customs officials about a shipment coming into the U.S.

While Staley believed the mislabeled "yam extract" package contained hydroxychloroquine powder, it actually only contained baking soda, the U.S Attorney's Office said.

Prosecutors say he planned to make his own hydroxychloroquine tablets using the powder he believed he'd obtained.

"People must be able to trust their doctors to offer honest medical advice instead of a fraudulent sales pitch, especially during a global pandemic," said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. "Medical professionals who lie about their treatments to profit from a desperate, fearful public will face criminal charges and serious consequences like any other lawbreaker."

Staley is due back in a San Diego federal courtroom on Dec. 17.