A Seattle entrepreneur is under federal investigation for allegedly claiming he’d manufactured a vaccine for the coronavirus—and selling it for $400 a pop.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration launched an investigation into Johnny Stine, the 56-year-old founder and president of North Coast Biologics, a Seattle biotech company with a focus on antibodies, after he touted the bogus vaccine on social media, according to a 40-page search warrant application obtained by The Daily Beast.
Investigators state Stine, who also faced and settled a state investigation into his alleged scam, offered to supply and administer the purported vaccine “to those who contacted him in Washington state and in other states.” State officials believe Stine administered the fake vaccine to at least 30 people.
The FDA has not approved any drugs to treat the coronavirus that has killed over 204,000 Americans and infected over 7 million.
According to the August search warrant application, the FDA initiated an investigation into Stine on March 12 after receiving a complaint about the entrepreneur’s vaccine claims on LinkedIn. A review of Stine’s social-media accounts show the entrepreneur, who founded North Coast Biologics in 2008, began to tout his vaccine earlier that month—just as the first cases of the coronavirus were reported in the United States.
“I can no longer stay silent. No government or corporation is ever going to protect us. We are the ones who have to look out for each other,” Stine wrote in a four-paragraph March 2 Facebook post, before claiming he had “made a vaccine to nCoV-’19 to the Spike protein and the receptor binding domain of this protein.”
Stine said that after making a “small amount for testing” and injecting himself with one shot, he was “titer-positive to the vaccine” and had antibodies that made him immune to the deadly virus. The entrepreneur finished his post by offering the vaccine to 100 people “who simply feel they need it because of increased risk or simply because it would make them comfortable”—for a fee of $400.
On March 12, Angela Zigler, an agent with the FDA, texted the number associated with Stine’s miracle cure claiming to be an interested customer. During her communication with Stine, the 56-year-old explained that the “very easy and groovy” COVID-19 vaccine would consist of two shots that would bind the “spike protein and the reception binding domain.”
Several days later, investigators got word that Stine had given the vaccine to an individual who described the entrepreneur as his “mad science friend” who can take” “your cancer tumor and figure out a way to kill it.”
The application notes that a Homeland Security investigator also reached out to Stine under the guise of securing the fake vaccine. In one conversation, Stine questioned the undercover agent about where he had heard about his treatment, stating it hopefully “wasn’t because you are friends of one of the Nazi’s who back then was claiming everyone should wait 18 months for the FDA-approved vaccine (which is exactly mine as far as target).”
After the rant, Stine then provided the agent with possible payment options for the vaccine, including Venmo, Bitcoin, and PayPal.
Zigler and another undercover agent finally met up with Stine on April 9 at Dick’s Burgers in Seattle, where the biotech entrepreneur admitted he didn’t use the coronavirus to make the vaccine—but downloaded the sequence online, according to the warrant application. (By definition, a vaccine is a weakened or killed version of the diseased germ doctors use to stimulate the immune system to generate antibodies without causing illness.)
Turning his back to standard medical practice, Stine said that after downloading the sequence he sent “it off to have the protein made.” “I vaccinate myself. So on day 12, I was vaccinated,” he told the undercover agents, adding that he had already vaccinated breastfeeding moms and traveled to Houston to vaccinate “seven M.D.’s down there.”
At the end of the meeting, Zigler paid Stine $800 in cash as a downpayment for future COVID-19 vaccinations for four people, according to authorities.
The application also details one of Stine’s most controversial COVID-19 vaccine recipients: San Juan Island Mayor Farhad Ghatan. As previously reported by The New York Times, Ghatan invited Stine to the small island town in the Pacific Northwest after the pair exchanged several stunning messages on Facebook about the local official’s decision to receive his vaccine.
The public exchange prompted several residents to urge Ghatan to not engage in pseudo-science—a concern the mayor brushed off by saying Stine had been his friend for 25 years.
“I’m in the news! Some panty-wastes in Friday Harbor got upset, when I was going to come up and vaccinate their mayor,” Stine messaged one of the undercover agents on April 28, according to the application. “It raised a piss load of little tattle tails and they cried to their mom and the AG sent me a cease and desist order on selling the vaccine.”
Amid his legal troubles, Stine allegedly told one of the undercover agents he would simply change the name of his vaccine to “immunogen,” claiming that it would take “care of everything.” The application notes that the Washington Attorney General’s office notice told Stine to “immediately stop making misrepresentations about your COVID-19 ‘vaccine,’” and that failing to comply would result in a $2,000 fine per violation.
“It just so happens that antibodies to my immunogen can make one immune which then puts it in the vaccine category—but immunogen works for me :),” he said, adding that his “lab” was in an undisclosed location.
But despite the state investigation, Stine continued to reach out to the undercover agents about their interest in the vaccine, texting about possible meeting times and how many people he could administer the shot to at one time, the application states. During one exchange, Stine allegedly brought up the AG’s letter to an agent and said he needed all transactions to occur in Washington so authorities don’t bust him for “going over state lines.”
The plans for “the immunogen” continued into May, when Stine “provided information that the meeting would not take place,” according to the application. In one of his last communications with the undercover agent, Stine texted a picture of his travels to the Idaho Bordello Museum.
On Aug. 20, authorities executed a search and seizure warrant for several of Stine’s electronics, documents, and properties.
The Washington Attorney General’s office, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Western District of Washington, or Stine did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment. While Stine has not been criminally charged, the FDA did send the biotech entrepreneur a May 21 letter also asking him to stop “misleadingly” representing his product as a vaccine for the coronavirus