A California Botox doctor is charged with fraud after his spa sold a “magic bullet” coronavirus treatment—which included Xanax and antimalarial drugs touted by President Trump—to an undercover FBI agent last week.
Jennings Ryan Staley, 44, faces one count of mail fraud for allegedly peddling a “COVID-19 Treatment Pack” that included chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which Trump has advanced as a cure for the coronavirus. (The drugs are undergoing clinical trials for COVID-19, though one Brazilian study ground to a halt after patients developed heart problems.)
If convicted, Staley could be sentenced to 20 years behind bars. He pleaded not guilty during a court appearance Friday afternoon and was released on bond.
Staley’s San Diego business, Skinny Beach Med Spa, generally offers Botox, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, tattoo removal and fat transfer. But the beauty center was also selling a dubious coronavirus cure-all to its mailing list subscribers, via a new business venture which has since been taken down: covid19medkits.com.
The now-defunct website also promoted its coronavirus regimen by referring to “a French study cited by Trump” on hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness, despite the publisher of the study stating it failed to meet the group’s “expected standard.”
According to the FBI, Staley also told the undercover G-man that he recently “got the last tank of hydroxychloroquine smuggled out of China,” and that his broker “tricked customs” by saying the shipment was “sweet potato extract.”
The Botox doc made news in late March, when he defended his $4,000 COVID-19 “treatments” to 10News, an ABC affiliate in San Diego. During the news segment, Staley claimed he was receiving death threats over his kits, which contained the antimalarial drug, along with azithromycin, used to treat bacterial infections, and zinc and Vitamin C.
“I knew it would be a little bit controversial because there was the controversy around the fact that hydroxychloroquine wasn’t approved until Sunday night but I didn't think people would be so angry,” Staley told 10News.
Staley—whose LinkedIn page declares, “Come to the bright side of medicine!”—could not be reached by The Daily Beast on Friday. His wife, Amanda Staley, referred a reporter to their lawyer, Patrick Griffin.
“We are not prepared to comment on the case right now besides to point out that the same executive branch that has been touting Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin for weeks has now turned around and criminally charged Dr. Staley for touting Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin,” Griffin told The Daily Beast in an email.
“A proper forum for the alleged conduct would be a regulatory agency, not a federal criminal courtroom.”
In a statement of probable cause, FBI special agent Terrence Mycka said Skinny Beach advertised the treatment packs March 27 via its mailing list.
The spa offered a $3,995 “COVID-19 Concierge Medicine Pack (Family),” which included intravenous drips; access to the company’s medical hyperbaric oxygen chamber; “anti-anxiety treatments to help you avoid panic if needed and help you sleep”; and hydroxychloroquine.
Staley’s spa was offering 20 tablets of hydroxychloroquine for a family of four, “to anyone willing to buy them,” the FBI affidavit states.
According to the court filing, an undercover agent contacted Skinny Beach and indicated “he had a wife and three children, that his father would be coming to live with the family, and that he wanted to learn more about purchasing six COVID-19 treatment packs.”
Staley called the agent on April 3 and explained that patients can collect the “COVID-19 treatment kit” or have it mailed to them.
The kit is “activated,” Staley allegedly explained, if someone in the patient’s household “gets sick.” The doctor said he would then advise the patient’s household on how much of each medication to take, prosecutors allege. “I will be dosing it. I will activate it. You will own and possess these kits,” Staley told the fed.
He then allegedly informed the undercover buyer that the anti-malarial medication, hydroxychloroquine, “cures the disease.”
“It’s incredible. There’s never been before, except for hepatitis C, in the history of medicine been a situation where a medication is completely curative of a virus,” Staley continued. He added, “You could be short of breath and coughing at noon today, and if I start your hydroxychloroquine loading dose, you’ll feel 99 percent better by noon tomorrow.”
The doctor said he would use mefloquine, another anti-malarial drug, if he ran out of hydroxychloroquine. Staley claimed that both medications would prevent a patient from contracting COVID-19 “for at least six weeks.”
Staley, the FBI says, referred to the anti-malarial drug as a “magic bullet.”
He allegedly went on to claim that his broker “smuggled” about 8,000 doses of hydroxychloroquine, in crystalline powder form, out of China.
“He claimed that he had been mailing out kits all day, and stated that he had only six kits remaining at the moment; but later added that he expected another shipment of ‘180’ the following day,” the probable cause statement alleges.
One client was coming from Scottsdale, Arizona, that afternoon to collect the coronavirus cure package, Staley allegedly told the agent. The doctor added he would also sell hydroxychloroquine powder to government officials in the United Kingdom.
The Daily Beast reviewed a Twitter account affiliated with a “Jennings R. Staley,” who mentioned British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the same day the beauty doc unknowingly courted the FBI in the sales call.
“@BorisJohnson we have hydroxychloroquine/azithromycin treatment kits that I can ship you and your family immediately if you need them sir,” a Twitter user believed to be Staley wrote on April 3. “Very sorry to hear of your infection. In my experience here in San Diego when I give the medication the patient is remarkably well in 24 hour.”
“If I’m hearing you right, if I buy these kits from you, then that’s going to pretty much guarantee that neither my kids, my dad, my wife, any of us get sick, and if we are, it’s going to cure us, right?” the undercover agent asked.
“Guaranteed,” Staley replied in a recorded conversation, before tempering his pitch: “Now, there’s always exceptions, your dad could come here and die of a heart attack.”
Before hanging up the phone, Staley encouraged the agent to “google” scientific and medical studies relating to the “cure” and agreed to sell him six treatment kits for $4,000. Each family member would receive a “hydroxychloroquine Z-pack kit,” Staley claimed, before suggesting, “You can sell it on eBay for $2,500 a pop.”
In another call on April 6, Staley instructed the agent to call his wife, Amanda, to arrange payment for four portions of hydroxychloroquine and two portions of chloroquine.
“Did you need Viagra, Xanax … I have IV fluids if you have a nurse in the house. We ship you that,” Staley asked the agent. Staley then informed the covert investigator that Skinny Beach’s “concierge package” included a bottle of Viagra. He asked the agent if he’d also want Xanax, a controlled substance used to treat anxiety.
The Xanax offer “suggests that Staley is routinely distributing this controlled substance without any sort of medical examination or demonstration of need,” the affidavit says.
The FBI says it received Staley’s drug package on April 9. It contained the prescriptions, along with Skinny Beach business cards and a “fact sheet for patients and patient/caregivers” for emergency use of chloroquine to treat COVID-19.
When FBI agents interviewed Staley on April 10 in a “voluntary” conversation, he walked back some of the claims he apparently made to clients. Asked whether the drug was “100 percent curative,” Staley answered in part, “No, I would be careful not to say that.”
Staley told authorities he wanted to obtain “300 kilograms of hydroxychloroquine, which will make 150,000 kits,” the affidavit states. The physician allegedly declared he would distribute the kits through a new business called covid19medkits.com.
“During the interview, Staley said that 80 percent of the patients that have come in to Skinny Beach concerning COVID-19 have had acute panic disorder,” the document alleges.
In a statement on Staley’s charge, Robert S. Brewer, Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, said, “We will not tolerate COVID-19 fraudsters who try to profit and take advantage of the pandemic fear to cheat, steal and harm others.”
“Rest assured: those who engage in this despicable conduct will find themselves in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors.”
In 2006, a news outlet in Decatur, Illinois, published a feature on Staley’s service as an Air Force physician in Iraq. Staley said he joined the military “to be part of what’s going on over here and have an adventure,” the Herald & Review reported.
Staley’s mother, Carol, told the reporter her son was a tender-hearted doctor. “He will sit and cry with his patients,” Carol Staley said. “I know he has a really warm heart. The things going on over there really bother him.”