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Doctor Selling COVID-19 “Cure” Charged with Lying to U.S. Customs, Stealing Employee’s Identity

OCI BadgeDepartment of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of California

Thursday, December 3, 2020

SAN DIEGO – Dr. Jennings Ryan Staley, previously charged with one count of mail fraud, was indicted by a federal grand jury yesterday for additional crimes arising from his business venture selling COVID-19 “treatment kits,” which he advertised to one potential customer as a “miracle cure.”  Staley is a licensed physician and the former operator of Skinny Beach Med Spas in and around San Diego.

According to the new charges, which became publicly available today, Staley agreed with a Chinese supplier to smuggle hydroxychloroquine powder into the U.S., lying to U.S. Customs by mislabeling a shipment as “yam extract.” Staley is also charged with stealing the name and identifying information of one of his employees in order to create and submit a bogus prescription for hydroxychloroquine on the employee’s behalf, in order to sell the drugs at a markup to his customers.

In late March and early April 2020, Staley marketed and sold his treatment kits to Skinny Beach customers.  He described his product as a “concierge medicine experience,” which included hydroxychloroquine—an anti-malarial drug that Staley described to one potential customer as a “guaranteed” cure for COVID-19.  Staley’s kits were priced as high as $3,995 for a family of four, while Staley himself paid roughly $1 per tablet of hydroxychloroquine. Staley’s marketing materials, per the indictment, stressed that recipients should “NOT BELIEVE THE REPORTS THAT HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE DOESN’T WORK!”

During a phone call with a prospective customer, in reality an undercover FBI agent, Staley repeatedly promised that the drugs he was selling would cure COVID-19.  According to the charging document, Staley said hydroxychloroquine “cures the disease,” and that it was “incredible,” a “magic bullet,” and an “amazing weapon.”  When the undercover agent asked if hydroxychloroquine and mefloquine—another anti-malarial that Staley described as “the Russian cure”—would effectively cure someone infected with COVID-19, Staley replied, “One hundred percent.  One hundred percent.”

One week later, when interviewed by FBI agents, the indictment alleges that Staley falsely denied ever saying that the Skinny Beach treatment packages were a “one hundred percent effective cure.”

“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.” Brewer praised prosecutors Nicholas Pilchak and Jaclyn Stahl as well as agents from the FBI and U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, for their excellent work on this case.

“The FBI has been vigilant in investigating anyone trying to capitalize on the COVID-19 crisis,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner. “It's clear that trust in our medical professionals is always important, but particularly so in current times. These additional charges emphasize the FBI's dedication to fully uncovering the extent of Dr. Staley's alleged fraudulent actions and our unwavering commitment to pursuing those who put personal greed before humanity.”

The charging document outlines multiple ways that Staley obtained the hydroxychloroquine pills he resold as part of his treatment kits, including soliciting them from his 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 even had plans to make his own tablets of hydroxychloroquine, using the mislabeled powder he planned to smuggle in from Chinese suppliers he found online.

Staley wrote one sham prescription, according to the superseding indictment, for a Skinny Beach employee.  Staley had also asked the employee for a few tablets from her own hydroxychloroquine prescription, supposedly for another Skinny Beach staff member who was sick. Instead of borrowing a few of the employee’s tablets to help a suffering colleague as he had promised, however, Staley turned around and wrote a bogus prescription using her name, date of birth, and prior home address.  Staley then took the sham prescription to multiple pharmacies to try to obtain hydroxychloroquine in the employee’s name, including by pretending to be her during the online ordering process.

Staley also lied to agents about the employee whose identifying information he had stolen, falsely claiming that she had allowed him to use her pre-existing medical condition to get hydroxychloroquine tablets that he would re-sell at a significant profit.

“The FDA continues its steadfast efforts to identify, investigate, and bring to justice those who attempt to profit from the pandemic by offering American consumers so-called ‘miracle cures’ to treat COVID-19,” said Special Agent in Charge Lisa L. Malinowski, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Los Angeles Field Office. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to bring to justice those who place profits above the public health.”

The superseding indictment also charges Staley with an importation crime, based on his agreement with a Chinese supplier to lie to U.S. Customs about a shipment that Staley believed contained 12 kilograms of hydroxychloroquine powder.  As alleged, when the supplier volunteered to “change the product name to export” in order to get the product through U.S. Customs by “replac[ing] hydroxychloroquine export with yam extract,” Staley replied “Excellent,” and then suggested the same mislabeling technique himself to another potential supplier.

Staley later bragged to the undercover agent just days later that he “got the last tank of . . . hydroxychloroquine smuggled out of China Sunday night at 1:00 a.m. in the morning” by “saying it was sweet potato extract.”  In truth, but unbeknownst to Staley, the shipment contained only baking soda.

As set out in the indictment, Staley also sought to raise money for his lucrative COVID-19 venture by soliciting investments.  He told one potential investor that, if she contributed a minimum of $25,000, he would promise to repay “triple [her] money in 90 days.”   

Staley’s next court date is December 17, 2020 at 11 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel.

If you think you are a victim of COVID-19 fraud, immediately report it to the FBI (visit ic3.gov, tips.fbi.gov, or call 1-800-CALL-FBI or the San Diego FBI at 858-320-1800; the public is also urged to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or by e-mailing the NCDF at disaster@leo.gov.

DEFENDANT                                               Case Number 20cr1227-GPC                                             
Jennings Ryan Staley, M.D.                           Age: 44                       Residence: San Diego, CA

Mail Fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1341
Maximum Penalty: Twenty years in prison; fine; special assessment
Importation Contrary to Law, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 545
Maximum Penalty: Twenty years in prison; fine; special assessment
False Statement, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001
Maximum Penalty: Five years in prison; fine; special assessment
Aggravated Identity Theft, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1028A
Mandatory minimum two years in prison; fine; special assessment

Federal Bureau of Investigation
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations
*The charges and allegations contained in an indictment or complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.


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