The Justice Department arrested a California man for selling a bogus COVID-19 cure, marking the first federal criminal case linked to the new coronavirus. Keith Lawrence Middlebrook allegedly announced on Instagram that he had invented a "coronavirus prevention pill,quot; and a "curative vaccine with injectable COVID-19 formula," falsely claiming that basketball player Earvin "Magic,quot; Johnson was on his company's directory. , and promised potential investors millions of dollars in returns. He was arrested after handing over his "prevention pills,quot; to an undercover FBI agent.
There is no vaccine or treatment for the new coronavirus, although researchers are conducting clinical trials for both. But Middlebrook claimed he was about to mass-produce his own cure. The Justice Department says it garnered around 2 million views on YouTube and Instagram, and spoke to at least two people about investments: an FBI agent and a cooperating witness. He is now charged with attempted wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
According to California court records, Middlebrook was previously arrested for wire fraud in 2014 after allegedly running a fraudulent credit score improvement business. The case was dismissed in 2016.
The Justice Department and other federal agencies have urged citizens to report fraud related to the coronavirus. The Food and Drug Administration sent cease and desist letters to several companies promoting essential oils or ingestible silver for the prevention of COVID-19, and the Department of Justice filed its first enforcement action over the weekend, issuing an order Temporary restriction against a site that sells "fake vaccine,quot; kits "to collect credit card information from buyers.
State attorneys general have also cracked down on virus-related scams, including New York's Letitia James, who censured radio host Alex Jones for marketing toothpaste and other products as coronavirus killers. The Missouri attorney general sued to prevent televangelist Jim Bakker from selling his own ineffective and potentially dangerous treatment.
United States Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen also said that people who intentionally expose others to the new coronavirus could be charged under federal terrorism laws, since the virus meets the definition of "biological agent." However, so far there have been no arrests for intentional exposure.