The Department of Justice charged a California man who tried scamming people out of their money by claiming to have a cure for COVID-19. 53-year-old Keith Lawrence Middlebrook is the first person to face federal charges related to the global coronavirus pandemic.
“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. “While this may be the first federal criminal case in the nation stemming from the pandemic, it certainly will not be the last.”
The FBI accused Middlebrook of falsely claiming he “personally developed a patent-pending cure” for the coronavirus and claimed on Instagram that his treatment made him immune to the virus.
“If I walk in the Staples Center and everyone is testing coronavirus-positive, OK, I can’t contract it," he said in one post.
Middlebrook then started trying to raise money off his nonexistent cure. He spoke with an investor, who happened to be an undercover FBI agent. Middlebrook asked the agent for $300,000 so he could market his miracle cure and promised a return of $30 million.
He claimed he already had a "$10 billion offer from an unnamed buyer in Dubai." When the agent called Middlebrook back, he claimed he secured seven new investors. He told the agent he would send him samples of the pills if he wired him $9,999.
After their conversation, the agent arranged an in-person meeting with Middlebrook, where he was taken into custody.
Middlebrook was charged with one felony count of attempted wire fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years behind bars.
“There’s a particular opportunistic cruelty in seeking to profit based on the fear and helplessness of others,” Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, said in a statement.
To keep up to date on the latest news about the coronavirus and to understand what you need to stay safe and healthy, check out the Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction podcast from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
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