June 6, 2022: San Diego doctor sentenced for COVID treatment fraud

In this week’s news: A San Diego doctor pays for illegally smuggling hydroxychloroquine into the country to sell in fake $4,000 COVID treatment kits in the early months of the pandemic; the British Medical Journal writes about black market sales of molnupiravir; Canadians warn about fake Xanax made with flualprazolam; and 14 more stories in 11 states.   

Staley's $4,000 "treatment kits" included antibiotics, chloroquine and illegally acquired hydroxychloroquine and generic versions of  Viagra and Xanax. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)

San Diego, California doctor Jennings Ryan Staley received a 30-day sentence, a year of home confinement and $14,000 in fines and forfeitures for trying to smuggle hydroxychloroquine from China into the U.S. to sell in his $4,000 coronavirus “treatment kits,” which he falsely claimed were a “one hundred percent” cure. Staley also admitted to impersonating one of his employees to fill a hydroxychloroquine prescription he had written, and deliberately lied to obstruct investigation into his conduct.

An article in the British Medical Journal examined black market sales of molnupiravir, an antiviral for COVID-19 which has been widely offered in unauthorized generic form on fake pharmacy websites, via social media, and through other sketchy sources in Mexico, the Philippines, Vietnam and the U.K.

​​Health officials in Canada’s Northwest Territories warned that counterfeit Xanax made of flualprazolam was circulating in the territory. The drug, which is stronger than Xanax, has been associated with several deaths.

Counterfeit pills across the country

In the Northeast

Brockton, Massachusetts resident Allante Pires pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute MDMA, ketamine and alprazolam (the active pharmaceutical ingredient in Xanax). Pires was one of three people indicted for participating in operating a dark web vendor site called “EastSideHigh.” Investigators seized a pill press, more than 10,000 counterfeit Xanax pills and more than 26 kilograms of other illicit drugs during the investigation.

In the South

Two men from Canada and the United Kingdom were indicted by a federal court in Georgia for allegedly using the dark web to distribute illegal drugs, including fentanyl pills in the United States. The case began in 2017 with the fentanyl deaths of two U.S. Navy petty officers in Kingsland, Georgia.

Authorities in Henderson County, Kentucky warned that there had been an uptick in fentanyl deaths, and that law enforcement had begun seeing fake prescription painkillers that were made with fentanyl.

Clarissa Hernandez and Sarah Morales, both 23-year-olds from Houston, Texas, have pleaded guilty to conspiring to possess with intent to distribute narcotics. Hernandez and Morales were  caught at a Border Patrol checkpoint smuggling more than 30 kilograms of illicit drugs, including 32,500 fentanyl pills in the front and rear bumpers of their cars.

A 25-year-old Virginia man who had been charged with making and selling the counterfeit oxycodone pills made with metonitazene that killed Alexandria, Virginia resident Kelly Beitz on September 24, 2021 died in jail in May. Investigators reported finding a pill press, a pill mixer, pharmaceutical binding and diluting agents, packing material, a label printer and numerous pills during a search in October 2021.

Learn more about counterfeit drug incidents in Texas, or consult our State Resource page to look up another state.

In the Midwest

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported that fentanyl-related deaths rose from 31 percent of the state's drug deaths in 2016 to 87 percent in 2021. One of those who died was 17-year-old Sebastian Kidd, who died after taking half a Percocet pill he acquired from a dealer on Snapchat.

The Kansas City, Kansas Police Department warned that it had seized approximately 6,000 counterfeit prescription pills made with fentanyl while executing a search warrant.

A 33-year-old Moorhead, Minnesota resident is facing drug and child endangerment charges after police found 501 suspected fentanyl pills, more than $20,000 in case, and a handgun in his home.

The Association for People Against Lethal Drugs held a rally in St. Charles, Missouri, where a local mom shared the story of her 18-year-old son, Stone Carpenter, who died in March 2021 after taking a counterfeit Percocet.

In the Mountain West

A family in Arvada, Colorado shared the story of 15-year-old Josiah Velasquez, who died after taking a fentanyl pill on May 14, 2022.

In the Pacific West

Cammie Velci spoke to California Polytechnic State University’s newspaper about the death of her son, Emilio Velci. The 19-year-old died in March 2020 after taking a Percocet pill he allegedly ordered from a Snapchat dealer to help with dental pain. The San Luis Obispo County district attorney has charged the alleged dealer; the case is ongoing.

San Diego, California resident Arnold Ray Walters III received a 25-year federal prison sentence for illegal gun possession and supplying the fentanyl pill that led to the death of a 24-year-old Poway man on January 1, 2017.

San Diego, California resident Saul Caro pleaded guilty to selling the fentanyl pills that killed an unnamed San Diego resident in his home on April 11, 2021.

San Diego Sector U.S. Border Patrol agents from Newton Azrak Border Patrol Station seized almost 84 pounds of fentanyl pills and more than five pounds of fentanyl powder during a vehicle stop just north of the I-15 checkpoint