A San Diego physician was sentenced to 30 days of custody and one year of home confinement for attempting to profit from the pandemic by marketing what he described as a “miracle cure” for COVID-19.
Jennings Ryan Staley, who formerly operated Skinny Beach Med Spas in and around San Diego, attempted to import what he believed was hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) smuggled out of China, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. The prosecution alleged he planned to include in COVID-19 treatment kits purported to cure the virus.
“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.”
Staley pleaded guilty last year to one county of importation contrary to law, admitting he worked with a Chinese supplier to smuggle a barrel into the United States with what he believed contained over 26 pounds of hydroxychloroquine powder by mislabeling it as “yam extract.” Court documents state Staley also suggested this mislabeling technique to another supplier who declined.
The prosecution alleges in court papers that Staley's medspas were in financial trouble, which was exacerbated by the pandemic. He conceived of a “silver lining'' in the form of "a business opportunity" to prescribe HCQ as part of a “treatment pack'' that he could sell to a desperate subset of his clients and the public in March and April 2020.
According to sentencing documents, Staley also solicited investors for his scheme, promising one that he could “triple your money in 90 days.”
By late March of 2020, he was marketing and selling “COVID-19 treatment packs,'' described as a "concierge medicine experience'' priced as high as $3,995 for a family of four, according to prosecutors, who wrote that his “bold marketing campaign caused several individuals to report his conduct to law enforcement, which sparked a criminal investigation.''
An undercover agent purchased six of Staley’s “treatment kits” for $4,000. The prosecution alleged in court documents that, during a recorded phone call with the undercover agent, Staley made false statements about the efficacy of his “treatment kits”. In a later phone call with the undercover agent, Staley spontaneously offered to throw in doses of federally controlled substances of Viagra and Xanax.
“The FDA continues to work with its law enforcement partners to protect the public health by identifying, investigating, and bringing to justice those who attempt to profit from the pandemic by offering and distributing COVID-19 treatments with unproven ‘miracle cure’ claims to American consumers,” said Special Agent in Charge Lisa L. Malinowski, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Los Angeles Field Office.
Staley later denied ever making the claim, prosecutors said. He was later indicted by a grand jury in connection with the importation count, and for impersonating one of his employees to obtain hydroxychloroquine.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, the overseas shipment turned out to only contain baking soda.