Wash. Man Charged With Selling Untested COVID-19 Vaccine

By Craig Clough
Law360 is providing free access to its coronavirus coverage to make sure all members of the legal community have accurate information in this time of uncertainty and change. Use the form below to sign up for any of our weekly newsletters. Signing up for any of our section newsletters will opt you in to the weekly Coronavirus briefing.

Sign up for our Consumer Protection newsletter

You must correct or enter the following before you can sign up:

Select more newsletters to receive for free [+] Show less [-]

Thank You!

Law360 (January 21, 2021, 10:38 PM EST) -- A man claiming to be a biotech expert was arrested and charged Thursday with introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce by marketing purported cancer and COVID-19 vaccines that he offered to inject into customers, federal prosecutors in Washington said.

Johnny T. Stine, 55, claims to be the founder and president of North Coast Biologics and peddled his COVID-19 "vaccine" to several undercover federal agents, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington.

The office added that Stine offered the treatment to at least one undercover agent even after the Washington State Attorney General's Office issued a cease and desist letter to Stine telling to stop providing his COVID-19 treatment and after he signed a consent decree in June agreeing not to promote the "vaccine."

"Untested, untried and potentially unsafe — this defendant was injecting people with an unknown substance claiming it was a vaccine for COVID-19," U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran said in a statement. "Preying on our fears in the midst of this pandemic is unconscionable. DOJ continues to investigate and prosecute these fraud cases."

Prosecutors said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was alerted in March that Stine was peddling his vaccine treatment on social media. An undercover investigator then made contact with Stine and was told he had a vaccine for sale that he developed through techniques he learned while developing cancer vaccines, the government said. 

Later in March, the FDA received a complaint about Stine injecting someone with a COVID-19 vaccine, and this month law enforcement discovered that at least one person who received an injection from Stine is in the hospital with COVID-19, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Undercover agents met with Stine in April and were told by Stine that he traveled around the U.S. giving his "vaccine" out, and he also indicated he would travel to Oregon and California to vaccinate family members of the undercover agents, according to prosecutors.

Even after signing the consent decree, Stine in August met with an undercover agent in Idaho where he offered to "vaccinate" the agent, but instead had the chemical seized by the government, which then executed a search warrant at his Redmond, Washington, warehouse where he claimed his research took place, prosecutors said.

The investigation also revealed that Stine markets untested cancer drugs, the U.S. attorney's office said. Stine's charges are all misdemeanors that can result in up to one year in prison, the office said. 

"Unproven injectable vaccines purported to prevent or treat COVID-19, made from unknown substances under unknown conditions, present significant health risks in and of themselves. They also can lead consumers to make lifestyle choices that increase their actual risk of infection with COVID-19, or to delay or stop appropriate medical treatment," Lisa L. Malinowski of the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations' Los Angeles Field Office said in a statement.

"The FDA will continue to investigate fraudulent COVID-19 treatments and bring to justice those who try to profit from the pandemic by offering unproven and illegally marketed coronavirus products," Malinowski said.

Stine could not be reached for comment.

The government is represented by Brian Werner of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington.

Counsel information for Stine was not immediately available.

The case is U.S. v. Johnny T. Stine, case number unavailable, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

--Editing by Breda Lund.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

Hello! I'm Law360's automated support bot.

How can I help you today?

For example, you can type:
  • I forgot my password
  • I took a free trial but didn't get a verification email
  • How do I sign up for a newsletter?
Ask a question!