A 53-year-old man was arrested Wednesday for falsely claiming to have developed a coronavirus prevention pill and an injectable cure for those infected, officials said.
Keith Lawrence Middlebrook – who is associated with several addresses, including residences in Westwood, Newport Beach and Murrieta — was charged with one count of attempted wire fraud, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a news release Wednesday.
Middlebrook was arrested Wednesday after a criminal complaint was filed with the United States District Court in Los Angeles, officials said, alleging that he claimed to have personally developed a “patent-pending cure” and a treatment to prevent COVID-19, which he planned to mass produce.
Health officials have said there is not yet an antiviral treatment or vaccine for the novel coronavirus.
Middlebrook was arrested during an undercover operation, in which an agent was posing as an investor for the alleged coronavirus prevention pills, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
He claimed to the undercover agent that a $300,000 investment would bring in $30 million, a promise that was allegedly secured by a “current $10 billion offer from an unnamed buyer in Dubai,” according to the affidavit.
Middlebrook solicited monetary investments for a company called Quantum Prevention CV Inc. He falsely claimed to at least one potential investor that Earvin “Magic” Johnson was on the company’s board of directors, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, which Johnson told investigators he knew nothing about.
Upon receiving money from investors, Middlebrook would issue shares in the company, as well as shares in a second corporation called Quantum Cure CV 2020.
A witness told investigators that Middlebrook sent a text saying, “I have Developed the Cure for the CoronaVirus COVID-19…*LA Patient tested Positive for CoronaVirus got up and walked out 51 hours after my Injection.”
The text went on to say, “Investors who come in at ground level say $1M will parachute with $200M – $300M…Conservative Minimum.”
In a video posted to Middlebrook’s Instagram account a week ago, he stated he’d created the cure for the coronavirus and showed a syringe filled with a clear liquid, describing how it worked, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. The video was viewed over 633,000 times as of Tuesday.
In another Instagram video that garnered over a million views in three days, Middlebrook showed a pill which he said prevented him from contracting COVID-19, officials said. According to the criminal complaint he “states that if he took the pill and walked into the Staples Center filled with COVID-19 positive individuals, he could not contract the virus.”
Middlebrook will be held in federal custody until his initial court appearance scheduled for Thursday, officials said. The felony offense carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.
“While this may be the first federal criminal case in the nation stemming from the pandemic, it certainly will not be the last,” United States Attorney Nick Hanna said. “I again am urging everyone to be extremely wary of outlandish medical claims and false promises of immense profits… we will move aggressively against anyone seeking to cheat the public during this critical time.”
The FBI is using a variety of tools to identify those who exploit the coronavirus pandemic through investment frauds or cyber schemes, according to Paul Delacourt of the FBI’s L.A. office.
The public is urged to report suspected fraud schemes related to the coronavirus by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 866-720-5721 or sending complaints firstname.lastname@example.org.