The most alarming projections suggest that we’ll be combating coronavirus for a minimum of 18 months. Vaccines require an extended period to rule out potential side effects, if the production capacity can even catch up in time. This will hopefully lead to stopgap treatments in the meantime, which of course might also mean an untold number of medical scams and quack cures.
On Wednesday, the FBI opened its first federal criminal case related to the pandemic. Keith Middlebrook, bodybuilder and occasional uncredited actor in major blockbusters, was arrested for touting a fake cure to his 2.4 million Instagram followers. Middlebrook, whose IMDb credits range from “Expo Cop” in Iron Man 2 to a number of uncredited parts in Horrible Bosses, Moneyball, and Thor, was pursuing investors in his miracle pill, promising them millions of dollars in returns. “Investors who come in at ground level say $1M will parachute with $200M - $300M…Conservative Minimum,” he texted the cooperating witness, per the affidavit.
The scheme came crashing down when Middlebrook texted the witness that he’d found the cure for COVID-19, and that one patient “got up and walked out 51 hours after my injection.” He claimed that Magic Johnson was on his board of directors, but Johnson told investigators that he’d never met Middlebrook before.
According to the Washington Post, Middlebrook showcased the white pills and a liquid injection in a series of now-deleted Instagram videos. He claimed the combination of these would amount to immunity and a cure, allowing Americans to go out in public carefree. “Meaning, if I walk into the Staples Center and everyone’s testing coronavirus positive, I can’t contract it. It’s impossible...I have what makes you immune to the coronavirus,” he said in one video.
In another video from March 10 that’s still active on his Instagram account, Middlebrook’s riding in the backseat of what he claims is a Maybach, saying that Trump’s already “nipped it in the bud.” He peddles other common myths about the coronavirus being less dangerous than the seasonal flu. “There’s already an antidote. People are getting up out of the hospital and walking away,” he says. Middlebrook’s Instagram bio still lists “Genius Entrepreneur, Inventor: COVID19 Immunity & Coronavirus Cure” among his many gigs.
Although the U.S. Justice Department has already charged its first civil case of alleged coronavirus fraud, dangerous misinformation from the top has already taken on deadly effects. President Trump has repeatedly peddled hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, paired with azithromycin as a potential treatment for the virus. After seeing Trump talk about the drug on TV, one Arizona man died after he and his wife chugged fish tank cleaner that contained hydroxychloroquine.
There’s every indication that this type of behavior will only get worse. In a statement on Middlebrook’s charges, United States Attorney Nick Hanna warned of the incoming spike in lies and outright scams we’re likely to see as the outbreak progresses. “During these difficult days, scams like this are using blatant lies to prey upon our fears and weaknesses,” he 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.”