EL SEGUNDO (CBSLA) — A Los Angeles man is accused of posting videos on social media fraudulently claiming that he developed both a pill that would not only cure, but prevent, the novel coronavirus in an attempt to solicit funds from investors.
Federal investigators said 53-year-old Keith Middlebrook who claims to have homes in Newport Beach, Murrieta and Westwood promised investors massive profits for an unproven treatment he claimed to have created.
"Not only did I create the cure, but this pill right here is the prevention," Middlebrook said in a video posted to Instagram.
More than two million people watched Middlebrook's YouTube and Instagram videos, where authorities said he falsely claimed to have developed a COVID-19 prevention pill and a cure for those already infected.
United States Attorney Nic Hanna said via FaceTime that Middlebrook was a cruel scam artist who allegedly used fear of the growing pandemic to turn a profit.
"I think it's despicable," Hanna said. "This is the time when all Americans are supposed to come together and help one another, and unfortunately there are a few people out there who look at this as an opportunity to lie, cheat and steal and try to take advantage of their neighbors."
Hanna said agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Middlebrook Wednesday in El Segundo after he met with an undercover agent posing as a potential investor. Investigators said Middlebrook promised an initial $300,000 investment would easily yield a $30 million return.
Investigators also said Middlebrook delivered the pills he claimed would prevent people from getting the coronavirus. It was not immediately clear what was in the pills.
Middlebrook has been charged with one felony count of attempted wire fraud, which carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.
"From the federal law enforcement perspective, this is a very high priority," Hanna said. "We are out in force, and we are going to be very aggressive going after people who try to take advantage of this crisis."
Middlebrook was in federal custody Wednesday night and was scheduled to appear in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles Thursday.
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