21st Century Snake Oil Salesmen? Lawsuits Filed Against Those Peddling Fake Coronavirus Cures

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Even though no coronavirus cure currently exists, and a vaccine will likely not be available any time soon, charlatans are taking the opportunity that a global pandemic provides to spread false information and phony cures for COVID-19.  

After disgraced TV preacher Jim Bakker suggested on his show that “Silver Solution” could cure the novel coronavirus, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office filed suit against the televangelist. The lawsuit is part of a more significant effort to crack down on fake coronavirus treatments. Unfortunately, Bakker is not the only one to falsely assert about a treatment for coronavirus:  

On Feb. 14, Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. CEO J. Joseph Kim made an appearance on Fox Business News, stating that Inovio had concocted a COVID-19 vaccine, “in a matter of about three hours once we had the DNA sequence from the virus.” On March 10, Inovio admitted that it had not developed a COVID-19 vaccine at all but had merely designed a precursor for a vaccine. A federal class-action lawsuit is now pending against Inovio, alleging that the company made false or misleading statements about a purported vaccine for the coronavirus, artificially inflating Inovio’s share price and leading to significant investor losses. 

A lawsuit filed recently in California federal court alleges that Dr. Jennings Ryan Staley fraudulently sold a so-called coronavirus cure through a spa in the state. According to the lawsuit, Staley advertised packs of prescription drugs and vitamins through Skinny Beach Med Spa and on the website COVID19MedicalKits.com. The alleged “cure” cost upwards of $4,000 for a family of four, and offered a 30-day “concierge medicine experience” from Dr. Staley, along with at home and in-store “intravenous drips,” access to hyperbaric chambers (for an additional charge) anti-anxiety treatments, COVID-19 testing, and the ability to send those in respiratory distress to their local emergency room. The complaint also claims that Dr. Staley offered to prescribe hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin to customers. 

Texas chiropractor Ray L. Nannis is the subject of a federal lawsuit charging him with selling fake homeopathic coronavirus cures online for “$95 per dose.” The suit also charges that Nannis is not a medical doctor, does not have a physician’s license in any state (including Texas), and does not even possess a medical degree. However, he used these fake credentials to build authority in medical treatments and sell his bogus products. 

On March 26, the FBI arrested Keith Lawrence Middlebrook, a California man who posted on Instagram that he had invented a coronavirus prevention pill and an injectable “COVID-19 formula vaccine cure.” After falsely claiming that former basketball player Earvin “Magic” Johnson was on his company’s board and promising potential investors millions of dollars in returns, he acquired approximately two million YouTube and Instagram views. Middlebrook is charged with attempted wire fraud and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. 

Although no lawsuit is pending, New York State Attorney General Letitia James recently ordered Alex Jones to stop making false claims about made-up coronavirus cures sold on his website, InfoWars. In her March 12 cease-and-desist letter, James ordered Jones to stop hawking products like “nano-silver” toothpaste, a colloidal silver product that, according to Jones, “kills the whole SARS-corona family at point-blank range.” Although the toothpaste has no proven effect on the coronavirus, it does have the ability to turn people’s skin blue permanently. 

The Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics (WASHLITE), a Washington state nonprofit, is suing Fox News for egregious coronavirus coverage. Fox News provided “misleading recommendations of activities that people should undertake to protect themselves and others, including casual recommendations of untested drugs; false assessments of the value of measures urged upon the public by their elected political leadership and public health authorities,” according to the complaint. The lawsuit claims that Fox intentionally deceived the public by denying and minimizing the danger posed by the coronavirus and that those misled by the network’s coverage may have contracted and died from the virus.  

However, there is evidence that Fox didn’t believe their own reporting. According to Courthouse News Service, while Fox News personalities Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs and Jesse Waters were on the air downplaying the disease, network executives were busy disinfecting their offices and placing hand sanitizer in conspicuous places throughout the building. 

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