The owner of a Carmel Valley-based medical spa faces up to two decades in prison in connection with a COVID-19 "miracle cure" he claimed would make the virus "disappear in hours" and even render an uninfected person immune for six weeks.
Federal prosecutors charged Dr. Jennings Ryan Staley, 44, a licensed physician and operator of Skinny Beach Med Spa in California, with one count of mail fraud on Thursday.
Staley is accused of trying to sell an undercover FBI agent one of his "COVID-19 treatment packs," which included hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin (used to treat pink eye), Xanax, and anti-anxiety medication, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
He sold packs for a family of four at just under $4,000. A patient who bought the pack for his family said it came with masks and hand sanitizer.
Staley allegedly told the undercover agent his "magic bullet" was "preventative and curative.
"It’s hard to believe, it’s almost too good to be true. But it’s a remarkable clinical phenomenon," Staley said.
He also told the agent "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."
A week later, the FBI interviewed Staley about his treatment and he denied any claims that his treatment was 100% effective.
"No, that would be foolish. We would never say anything like that," he told the FBI.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Staley also told the undercover agent he was smuggling hydroxychloroquine from China, concealed as sweet potato extract to get around customs investigators. Shipping records showed Staley had a "yam extract" shipment scheduled to arrive in a few days, according to the complaint.
"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 maximum sentence for mail fraud is 20 years in prison. Staley's arraignment is scheduled for Friday.
Skinny Beach Med Spa is based in Carmel Valley and has a second location in Del Mar. Staley has been licensed for over 10 years, according to the California Medical Board.
The public can report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or by emailing the NCDF at firstname.lastname@example.org.