A California man was arrested by the FBI on fraud charges Wednesday for allegedly soliciting investments for a phony coronavirus cure.
Officials said the man, 53-year-old Keith Lawrence Middlebrook, claimed his company would use the investments to market pills that would prevent COVID-19 and an injectable cure for those currently diagnosed with coronavirus.
“During these difficult days, scams like this are using blatant lies to prey upon our fears and weaknesses,” United States Attorney Nick Hanna, said in a statement Wednesday. “While this may be the first federal criminal case in the nation stemming from the pandemic, it certainly will not be the last.”
Globally, there are at least 472,000 diagnosed coronavirus cases with at least 21,000 deaths. In the U.S., there are more than 69,000 cases and on Wednesday, the death toll surpassed 1,000. At least 114,000 people around the world have recovered from COVID-19, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
Middlebrook was charged with one count of attempted wire fraud, which is a felony offense that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
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The federal complaint alleges that Middlebrook claimed to have “personally developed a patent-pending cure” and treatment for the coronavirus.
There are no known cures or vaccines for COVID-19, though a few states, the federal government and countries around the world are conducting trials for experimental drugs to combat the global pandemic.
Middlebrook, according to officials, was arrested after attempting to give the coronavirus pills to an undercover agent who was posing as an investor. He allegedly told the undercover agent that he would guarantee a $300,000 investment would yield $30 million, according to the FBI.
He also falsely claimed NBA Hall of Famer and former Los Angeles Lakers star Earvin “Magic” Johnson was a member of the board of directors of his company, which he called Quantum Prevention CV Inc.
Middlebrook, according to the FBI, posted his coronavirus pill claims on social media. In one Instagram video, which was viewed more than 1 million times, Middlebrook says that if he “took the pill and walked into the Staples Center filled with COVID-19 positive individuals, he could not contract the virus,” according to the criminal complaint.
“There’s a particular opportunistic cruelty in seeking to profit based on the fear and helplessness of others,” Paul Delacourt, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, said in a statement Wednesday. “As the country reacts to the current crisis, and while many suffer from losing a loved one or losing their livelihood, the last thing Americans need are con-artists who hawk miracle cures they know are not tested, guaranteed, nor approved.”
Middlebrook's initial court appearance is expected Thursday afternoon in Los Angeles.