LOS ANGELES -- In one of the first federal cases of its kind during the coronavirus pandemic, a Southern California man has been arrested for allegedly claiming to have developed a cure for COVID-19 and soliciting investments in his company, according to the FBI.
Authorities say Keith Lawrence Middlebrook, 53, claimed to have developed a patent-pending cure and a treatment to prevent coronavirus infection.
He was soliciting million-dollar investments in his company and claimed it would return hundreds of millions of dollars in profit. Middlebrook also claimed to have Earvin "Magic" Johnson on his board. Investigators confirmed Johnson had no involvement in the company.
Middlebook is associated with several Southern California addresses, including in Westwood, Newport Beach and Murrieta.
He was arrested Wednesday on a federal complaint of wire fraud, carrying a penalty of up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted.
The federal case is believed to be one of the first in the nation connected to an alleged coronavirus scam.
"During these difficult days, scams like this are using blatant lies to prey upon our fears and weaknesses," U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said.
"While this may be the first federal criminal case in the nation stemming from the pandemic, it certainly will not be the last. I again am urging everyone to be extremely wary of outlandish medical claims and false promises of immense profits."
Middlebrook's Instagram account lists 2.4 million followers. On it, he posted several videos claiming to have invented a pill that cures and prevents COVID-19. He said he has studied cell tissue and chemical biology for years. He has also posted videos on YouTube.
"Yes I created the cure that shuts down the COVID-19, that makes the cells from the coronavirus detach, release and die within 48 hours," he claims in one video.
One of his videos was viewed 1 million times.
He said he takes the pill every morning.
"I'm immune to catching the coronavirus," Middlebrook declared in one video.
The FBI says he was arrested after delivering pills to an undercover agent who was posing as an investor. He said his company would produce and market the pills and said investors could earn hundreds of millions of dollars on a $1 million investment.
As the FBI notes, health experts say there is no approved cure or vaccine for coronavirus at this time.
Anyone who wants to report suspected fraud related to coronavirus can call the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at (866)720-5721 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.