A San Diego physician who tried to import what he believed was hydroxychloroquine smuggled out of China, which prosecutors alleged he planned to include in COVID-19 treatment kits purported to cure the virus, was sentenced Friday to one month in custody and a year of home confinement.
Jennings Ryan Staley, who formerly operated Skinny Beach Med Spas in and around San Diego, pleaded guilty to a federal count of importation contrary to law for trying to obtain hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) through a Chinese supplier and lying to U.S. customs about the shipment’s contents.
The shipment was mislabeled as “yam extract,” though Staley believed it contained around 26 pounds of hydroxychloroquine powder intended for inclusion in capsules as part of COVID-19 treatment kits he planned to sell, prosecutors said.
The prosecution alleges in court papers that Staley’s med spas were in financial trouble, which was exacerbated by the pandemic, but he conceived of a “silver lining” in the form of “a business opportunity to prescribe HCQ as part of a “treatment pack” that he could sell to a desperate subset of his clients and the public.
By late March of 2020, he was marketing and selling pricey “COVID-19 treatment packs,” described as a “concierge medicine experience” priced as high as $3,995 for a family of four, according to prosecutors, who wrote that his “bold marketing campaign caused several individuals to report his conduct to law enforcement, which sparked a criminal investigation.”
He told one prospective customer — an undercover FBI agent — that the purported treatment was a “magic bullet” and a “miracle cure” that was “one hundred percent” effective in combating the virus.
He later denied ever making the claim, prosecutors said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office says he also solicited investors for his treatment kits, one of whom he told he could “triple your money in 90 days.”
Staley was later indicted by a grand jury in connection with the importation count, and for impersonating one of his employees in order to obtain hydroxychloroquine.
The shipment he received from the overseas supplier turned out to only contain baking soda, according to the U.S Attorney’s Office, which wrote in court papers that “Staley himself had been duped by another unscrupulous profiteer taking advantage of the pandemic.”
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said, “At the height of the pandemic, before vaccines were available, this doctor sought to profit from patients’ fears. He abused his position of trust and undermined the integrity of the entire medical profession.”
Updated at 4:11 p.m. May 27, 2022
–City News Service