SAN DIEGO–A licensed physician and the operator of Skinny Beach Med Spa in San Diego, was charged Thursday with mail fraud in connection with the sale of what he described as a “100%” cure for COVID-19 that he said would render customers immune to the virus for at least six weeks.
Dr. Jennings Ryan Staley, 44, is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jill Burkhardt.
FBI Agents began investigating the COVID-19 related fraud immediately upon receiving a tip from the public and shortly thereafter introduced an undercover agent. FBI Agents also executed a search warrant at the business of Skinny Beach Med Spa located in Carmel Valley. As alleged in the criminal complaint, Skinny Beach Med Spa, based in Carmel Valley, offered a range of beauty-related services such as botox, hair removal, and fat transfer. In late March, Skinny Beach began sending emails advertising:
“COVID-19 treatment packs,” described as a “concierge medicine experience” priced at $3,995 for a family of four, that included among other things access to Dr. Staley, the medications hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, and “anti-anxiety treatments to help you avoid panic if needed and help you sleep.” In a recorded call in which Dr. Staley was selling his services to a would-be customer – in fact, the undercover FBI agent – Dr. Staley described the medication he was offering as “an amazing cure” and a “miracle cure” that would cure COVID-19 “100%.” He added that if you take the medication without having the disease, “you’re immune for at least 6 weeks.” Staley referred to medication he offered as a “magic bullet,” and said, “It’s preventative and curative. It’s hard to believe, it’s almost too good to be true. But it’s a remarkable clinical phenomenon.” Staley also stated, “I’ve never seen anything like this in medicine, just so you know. Really, I can’t think of anything. That, you’ve got a disease that literally disappears in hours.”
Dr. Staley was interviewed a week later by the FBI as part of the overt investigation. When Dr. Staley was asked by agents whether Skinny Beach has told patients that the treatments are a 100% effective cure for COVID-19, Dr. Staley said, “No, that would be foolish. We would never say anything like that.” He also told the FBI that it was “not definitive” that the medication he offered cures COVID-19.
As set out in the complaint, Dr. Staley also offered the would-be customer Xanax (alprazolam) – a Schedule IV controlled substance – as part of his concierge package, and shipped the drug without conducting any sort of medical examination. He claimed that his broker was smuggling hydroxychloroquine from China to make his own pills, and had concealed the shipment from customs authorities by describing it as sweet potato extract. Shipping records confirmed that Dr. Staley was indeed importing a shipment of “yam extract,” scheduled to arrive in the U.S. in a matter of days.
“We will not tolerate COVID-19 fraudsters who try to profit and take advantage of the pandemic fear to cheat, steal and harm others,” said U.S. Attorney Brewer. “Rest assured: those who engage in this despicable conduct will find themselves in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors.”
“The sale of false cures, especially by a medical professional, will be vigorously investigated by the FBI,” said Omer Meisel, the Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s San Diego Field Office. “The FBI is using a variety of tools to identify anyone who exploits the current crisis with fraudulent scams or a variety of cyber schemes – and is proactively warning the public about products claiming to save lives, before losing their money or creating false hope. Scammers seeking to profit by exploiting fear and uncertainty during this COVID-19 pandemic will be brought to justice.”