The FBI arrested a small-time actor and bodybuilder in an undercover operation after the California man allegedly peddled false coronavirus cures to his millions of Instagram followers.
It is the Justice Department’s first criminal case related to COVID-19 hoaxes, following a successful civil enforcement action shutting down a fraudulent coronavirus test kit website earlier in the week.
Keith Middlebrook, 53, was arrested Wednesday night following a criminal complaint filed against him in Los Angeles, charging him with one count of attempted wire fraud, a felony that brings a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The Justice Department said Middlebrook was arrested during a sting operation in which he delivered the fake coronavirus cure pills to an undercover agent who was posing as an investor.
Middlebrook, who had bit parts in TV shows such as The Sopranos, Entourage, How I Met Your Mother, and a small role in the movie Iron Man 2, repeatedly pitched his 2.4 million Instagram followers on a fake cure he’d concocted to cure the coronavirus.
The Justice Department said during its sting operation, “Middlebrook fraudulently solicited funds with promises of massive profits for a company he called Quantum Prevention CV Inc.” and he “falsely claimed to at least one potential investor that Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson was a member of the board of directors.” Investigators said that Johnson, the retired Los Angeles Lakers superstar point guard, “confirmed to investigators that he knew nothing about Middlebrook’s company.”
Middlebrook told undercover agents posing as investors that his company would mass produce the fake COVID-19 prevention pills he claimed would prevent COVID-19. According to the indictment, the California man promised a $300,000 investment would earn $30 million and claimed his company had received “a current $10 billion offer from an unnamed buyer in Dubai.”
Middlebrook told a cooperating witness in a text message, “I have Developed the Cure for the CoronaVirus COVID-19” and falsely claimed that a patient in Los Angeles who “tested positive for CoronaVirus got up and walked out 51 hours after my Injection,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. Middlebrook told the cooperating witness investors who came in “at ground level” with $1 million would “parachute” away with $200 million to $300 million as a “conservative minimum.”
Paul Delacourt, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said, “There’s a particular opportunistic cruelty in seeking to profit based on the fear and helplessness of others.”
“As the country reacts to the current crisis, and while many suffer from losing a loved one or losing their livelihood, the last thing Americans need are con artists who hawk miracle cures they know are not tested, guaranteed, nor approved,” Delacourt said. “The FBI is using a variety of tools to identify anyone who exploits the current crisis … and is proactively warning investors to thoroughly research any salesperson or any product claiming to save lives, before losing their money, or creating false hope.”
Attorney General William Barr has urged every U.S. attorney nationwide to prioritize coronavirus-related prosecutions during the pandemic.
There were more than 521,000 confirmed coronavirus cases around the world as of Wednesday afternoon and at least 23,568 deaths tied to the infection, according to Johns Hopkins University. In the United States, there have been more than 79,000 cases, which have resulted in at least 1,124 deaths.
Middlebrook’s Instagram profile describes him as a “Real Iron Man, Genius Entrepreneur, Inventor: COVID19 Immunity & Coronavirus Cure, Speaker, 800 Scores Business Real Estate, Actor, Reverse Aging Inc.”
In Instagram and YouTube videos viewed millions of times, Middlebrook peddled the false coronavirus cure, the Justice Department said.
In a video last week with more than half a million views, Middlebrook told his millions of followers: “Yes I have Developed the Cure for the CoronaVirus COVID-19. After 6 Weeks of Intense Focus and Development (and very little sleep). I am currently going into Mass Production. … The CDC, WHO and Mainstream Media have created a Pandemonium environment. To answer this (just because it’s what I do) I have created a CoronaVirus Prevention Pill” (After 3 Days of taking it the person is Immune to the Virus and STAYS immune as long as they continue taking it once a day it the morning) and also the COVID-19 Formula Vaccine Cure to Satisfy the Physiological and Phycological Need at large.”
Middlebrook showed his followers a pill in another video with more than one million views and told them that if he took the pill and walked into the Staples Center filled with people positive for COVID-19, he would be immune from contracting the virus.
“FACT: Keith Middlebrook beat the Feds on September 13, 2016 in court but the Mainstream Media and the Government won’t inform the public that Keith WON,” Middlebrook claimed a couple weeks ago. “This a true Example of how Evil and Sick they both can be. Keith is now suing the government for 1 Billion for damages. Keith Middlebrook Net Worth 2020 $30 Million, Keith Middlebrook Enterprise Net Worth 2020 1 Billion. Much more to come, stay tuned.”
Middlebrook is being held in federal custody until his initial court appearance, which is expected to be Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
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