Keith Lawrence Middlebrook, an Instagram weightlifter and self-described “Genius Entrepreneur,” was arrested in the Los Angeles area yesterday for allegedly peddling a fake cure for covid-19, the disease that has so far infected at least 69,210 Americans and killed at least 1,046.
Middlebrook was arrested while delivering pills to an undercover FBI agent who was posing as a possible investor, according to a news release from the Department of Justice published online late Wednesday. Middlebrook allegedly made claims that he developed a “patent-pending cure” for covid-19, but federal health authorities like the FDA have repeatedly warned there is no cure for the disease.
The 53-year-old Middlebrook allegedly solicited funds from investors for a company he called Quantum Prevention CV Inc. (QP20), and he even told people that retired basketball star Magic Johnson was going to be on the company’s board of directors. Johnson told the feds he had no knowledge of Middlebrook’s company.
From the DOJ press release:
QP20, according to Middlebrook, would mass produce the pills he claimed would prevent COVID-19. Upon receipt of investor funds, Middlebrook would issue shares in both QP20 and Quantum Cure CV 2020 (QC20), another alleged corporation Middlebrook claimed would market the serum that could cure COVID-19 patients within two to three days, the complaint alleges.
In communications with a cooperating witness, Middlebrook said, “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,” according to the affidavit. In the same text message, Middlebrook also wrote, “Investors who come in at ground level say $US1M will parachute with $US200M – $US300M…Conservative Minimum.”
Middlebrook also peddled his claims on Instagram, writing last week, according to the DOJ:
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.
That Instagram post appears to have been deleted since last night, but it was viewed over 633,000 times, according to the FBI.
Middlebrook, who has claimed on social media to have a net worth of $US30 ($50) million, is charged with one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
In an Instagram post from March 15, Middlebrook wrote that he would expose “how the Mainstream Media operates distorting and embellishing the Coronavirus,” echoing the claims of far-right media outlets like Fox News, the Federalist, and even President Donald Trump that the covid-19 pandemic has been over-hyped. At least 491,623 people have been infected and 22,169 have died worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker.
Middlebrook’s Instagram bio really says it all:
Real Iron Man, Genius Entrepreneur, Inventor: COVID19 Immunity & Coronavirus Cure, Speaker, 800 Scores Business Real Estate, Actor, Reverse Ageing Inc.
Middlebrook appears to have been an early supporter of Donald Trump for president and was retweeted at least four times by the future wannabe authoritarian in 2015. Middlebrook’s Twitter account appears to be currently suspended for an unknown reason.
In true Trump-supporter form, Middlebrook claimed in one Instagram post that he was suing the federal government for $US1 ($2) billion in damages. It’s not clear whether such a lawsuit has actually been filed.
“There’s a particular opportunistic cruelty in seeking to profit based on the fear and helplessness of others,” Paul Delacourt, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, said in a statement. “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.”
“The FBI is using a variety of tools to identify anyone who exploits the current crisis through investment frauds or a variety of cyber schemes,” Delacourt continued. “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.”
This may be the first arrest connected to a covid-19 cure, but it probably won’t be the last. Throughout history, people have tried to capitalise on disaster through miracle cures and empty promises. And our current crisis will lead shady people to exploit people’s pain and suffering through unimaginable levels of greed.