SAN DIEGO — Jennings Ryan Staley, a doctor who tried to cash in on the pandemic by marketing what he called a “miracle cure” for COVID-19, was today sentenced to 30 days in prison and a year of house arrest for attempted smuggling Hydroxychloroquine to the United States to sell in its coronavirus “treatment kits.”
Last year, Staley pled guilty to one charge of illegal importation, admitting he worked with a Chinese supplier to try to smuggle a keg into the United States that he believed contained over 26 pounds of hydroxychloroquine powder by falsely labeling it “yam extract.” According to court documents, Staley also suggested this mislabeling technique to another supplier, who declined, telling Staley, “Sorry, we have to do it legally.”
Staley admitted he intended to sell the hydroxychloroquine powder in capsules as part of his business venture to sell COVID-19 “treatment kits” in March and April 2020, at the start of the global pandemic. According to the judgment documents, Staley also attracted investors to his venture, promising one he could “triple your money in 90 days.”
In his plea agreement, Staley admitted to writing a hydroxychloroquine prescription for one of his employees, using the employee’s name and personally identifiable information. To fill the prescription for the increasingly scarce drug, Staley answered the pharmacists’ questions as if he were the clerk, all without the clerk’s knowledge or consent.
Staley marketed and sold its COVID-19 “treatment kits” to customers at its Skinny Beach Med Spas in and around San Diego. Court documents say law enforcement began investigating Staley after receiving multiple tips from concerned citizens prompted by his marketing campaign. Per admissions in his plea agreement, Staley described his products – which included hydroxychloroquine – in talks with as “a hundred percent” cure, “miracle cure,” “amazing weapon,” and “almost too good to be true.” an undercover FBI agent posing as a potential customer, and Staley stated that the products would provide at least six weeks’ immunity. Staley acknowledged that these statements were significant to the prospect and that as a doctor he betrayed a position of public trust and used a special skill in carrying out his plan.
An undercover agent bought six of Staley’s “treatment kits” for $4,000. Court documents explain that during a recorded phone call with the undercover agent, Staley not only made false claims about the effectiveness of his “treatment kits”; He also boasted, “I got the last tank of . . . Hydroxychloroquine smuggled out of China at 1am Sunday night. . . The agent. . . sort of smuggled it out, otherwise tricked customs by claiming it was sweet potato extract.” In a later phone call with the undercover agent, Staley spontaneously offered to throw in cans of generic Viagra and Xanax, which is a federally controlled substance. At no point did Staley ask medical questions about the undercover agent’s alleged family members, including the agent’s three alleged minor children.
Staley also admitted that he had willfully obstructed and attempted to obstruct the federal investigation into his conduct by lying to federal agents. When questioned by law enforcement, Staley falsely denied ever claiming his “treatment kits” were a “100 percent effective cure,” adding “that would be stupid.” Staley also falsely claimed that his doctor’s office would receive “absolutely” all relevant information about each family member when shipping medication for a family treatment pack, when just a week earlier he had dispensed a “family pack” of hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, generic Viagra, Xanax and azithromycin to the undercover agent without obtaining any medical information from the agent or the five alleged family members of the agent.
U.S. District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel also ordered Staley to pay a $10,000 fine and forfeit the $4,000 the undercover cop paid and more than 4,500 pills of various pharmaceutical drugs, several sachets containing empty pill capsules and a manual capsule filling machine.
“At the height of the pandemic, before vaccines were available, this doctor was trying to capitalize on patients’ fears,” U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said. “He betrayed his position of trust and undermined the integrity of the entire medical profession. We are committed to enforcing United States laws and protecting patients, including prosecuting physicians who choose to commit crimes.” Grossman commended the prosecution team and federal agents from the FBI and FDA-OCI who worked hard to ensure justice in this case. He also commended US Customs and Border Protection for their assistance with the investigation.
“The defendant used a global pandemic to exploit public fear by offering a ‘cure’ for COVID-19, and then lied to FBI agents about it,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy. “I want to thank our federal partners at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – Office of Criminal Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the United States Attorney’s Office for their combined efforts to bring this defendant to justice.”
“The FDA continues to work with its law enforcement partners to protect public health by identifying, investigating, and bringing to justice those attempting to profit from the pandemic by using unproven ‘miracle cure’ COVID-19 treatments.” Offering and distributing claims to American consumers,” said Acting Special Agent Lisa L. Malinowski, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Los Angeles Field Office.
On May 17, 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force, led by the Deputy Attorney General, to bring together all of the federal government’s resources to support fraud enforcement efforts.
If you think you have been the victim of a COVID-19 scam, report it to the FBI immediately (visit ic3.gov, tips.fbi.gov or call 1-800-CALL-FBI or the San Diego FBI at 858 -320-1800; The public is also encouraged to report suspected COVID-19-related fraud by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline (1-866-720-5721) or emailing the NCDF to [email protected].
DEFENDANT Case number 20-CR-1227-GPC
Jennings Ryan Staley, MD Age: 44 San Diego, CA
SUMMARY OF FEES
Unlawful importation, violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 545
Maximum penalty: twenty years in prison; fine; special rating
Federal Office of Investigations
US Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations
US Customs and Border Protection