A Redmond, Washington man was sentenced to just five years of probation and a $US246,000 ($341,497) fine on Monday for selling his own homemade COVID-19 vaccine, which he offered to inject during the earliest days of the pandemic. The judge admitted he could’ve sentenced the man to jail time, but opted for a longer probation period instead.
Johnny T. Stine, who founded a shoestring-budget biotech company called North Coast Biologics, offered to inject people with his unapproved COVID-19 vaccine for between $US400 ($555) and $US1,000 ($1,388), starting as early as March 2, 2020–when there were just 102 identified cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and six confirmed deaths.
Legitimate COVID-19 vaccines produced by companies like Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, took almost a year to fully develop and test to ensure they were safe and effective. The vaccines have been an amazing tool for preventing serious illness and death during the pandemic.
The 57-year-old Stine advertised his vaccine on social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, drawing the attention of the FDA, which issued a notice against his company in May of 2020. But Stine’s unregulated COVID-19 vaccine wasn’t the only thing that the federal authorities objected to. Stine was also selling cancer “vaccines” that he said would cure people.
“From 2018-2020, Mr. Stine made more than $US200,000 ($277,640) selling cancer patients his ‘vaccines’ that he said would cure their disease,” U.S. Attorney Nick Brown said in a statement about Stine’s sentencing on Monday.
“He truly preyed on those who were desperate for any glimmer of hope, injecting people with unapproved substances developed in his rented garage, with no assurance of safety or purity,” Brown continued.
The Homeland Security Investigation team set up a sting operation, posing as a vaccine buyer, and Stine admitted to agents that he’d travelled around the country selling his COVID-19 vaccine, in places like California and Oregon.
As Seattle’s King 5 TV news outlet notes, Stine first entered a consent decree with the state of Washington in mid-2020 and agreed to stop selling the vaccines, which seemed to please the government. The only problem? Stine kept selling his vaccines, and was busted trying to give his COVID-19 vaccine to an undercover agent in Idaho. They even captured text messages sent by Stine as he unknowingly peddled his vaccines to undercover police.
The prosecutors were obviously not happy that Stine went back on his word and tried to sell his vaccines again after getting caught the first time.
“Mr. Stine is dangerously arrogant or overwhelmingly greedy, or both,” the prosecutors in the case wrote, according to a press release.
“Time and again, he placed his misguided confidence and personal interest ahead of the wellbeing of the people whose health he endangered by providing them unapproved, and most likely ineffective, medical treatment; medical treatment that dissuaded them from pursuing actual effective treatment and/or from acting in ways that would protect them from infection.”
Why didn’t Stine get jail time? The judge decided a longer probation period would be better.
“This is a difficult and troubling case…. It would be completely reasonable to send you to jail, but I’m going to give you a longer probation sentence so we can keep an eye on you,” Magistrate Judge Brian A. Tsuchida said at Stine’s sentencing hearing.
The North Coast Biologics website is still available and includes a video of Stine explaining how he sourced lab supplies on eBay. Another video from 2012 shows how Stine converted a garage space in Seattle into his own lab.
The website even includes a YouTube embed of Steve Jobs reading “here’s to the crazy ones….” Whatever Stine was trying to accomplish, he’s not going to be the next Steve Jobs.
“It’s important for consumers to know when someone is trying to take advantage of them, and the old adage that if it’s it too good to be true then it isn’t true certainly applies here,” Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Robert Hammer, who oversees HSI operations in the Pacific Northwest, said in a statement.
“Legitimate businesses do not evade law enforcement agencies and they do not evade consumer safety rules. HSI Seattle appreciates the work done by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Seattle Police Department, and we will continue utilising all of our partnerships to ensure the health and safety of our communities.”