As COVID-19 spread in the spring of 2020, a doctor in San Diego boasted that he had a “miracle cure,” hydroxychloroquine. In mass-marketing emails from his Skinny Beach Med Spa, Jennings Staley said the drug was included in his coronavirus “treatment kits,” despite the medication becoming increasingly scarce. Staley told an undercover federal agent that planned to smuggle in a barrel of hydroxychloroquine powder with the help of a Chinese supplier, the Washington Post reports. Staley was sentenced to 30 days in prison and a year of home confinement for the scheme after pleading guilty. “At the height of the pandemic, before vaccines were available, this doctor sought to profit from patients’ fears,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman. “He abused his position of trust and undermined the integrity of the entire medical profession.”
Hydroxychloroquine is prescribed to people with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and is used to treat malaria. The drug was touted by President Trump as a “game changer.” Trump’s endorsement caused demand for the drug to spike, leading to shortages and affecting those who needed it for non-COVID health problems. Studies later found that hydroxychloroquine is not an effective treatment for COVID and did not prevent people from becoming sick. Federal agents began looking into Staley after concerned customers alerted the FBI to the marketing emails., investigators said. Staley told an undercover agent that hydroxychloroquine was a “magic bullet” and an “amazing cure.” He said he “got the last tank of hydroxychloroquine smuggled out of China,” records show, and that he “tricked customs” by labeling the barrel as “sweet potato extract.” He added that the powder was enough to make 8,000 doses in gelatin capsules.