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Federal agents on Wednesday arrested a Southern California man who allegedly claimed to have a cure for the coronavirus and was selling the fake antidote using Ervin “Magic” Johnson’s name as a ruse to lure investors.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) took actor Keith Lawrence Middlebrook, 53, into custody on Wednesday evening during an undercover sting.
Middlebrook, who held small-time uncredited roles in “Iron Man 3,” “Thor” and “Moneyball,” delivered pills to a federal agent posing as a potential investor after he allegedly claimed to have personally developed a “patent-pending cure” for COVID-19, the global pandemic that has since ravaged the world, the agency said in a statement released Wednesday.
It is unclear as of Thursday if he has since retained an attorney.
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Despite Middlebrook’s lack of screen time, he has a social media following of nearly 2.5 million Instagram followers, and according to the FBI, at least 2 million people have viewed YouTube and Instagram videos released by Middlebrook that falsely claim he had a “prevention pill” and “injectable cure” for the novel virus.
The associated Instagram account has since been deleted.
Middlebrook is said to have name-dropped Los Angeles Lakers great and business mogul Magic Johnson as a member of his supposed board of directors for his company Quantum Prevention Inc. (QP20), federal agents said. Johnson denied having any knowledge of Middlebrook’s company to authorities.
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Furthermore, in the scheme Middlebrook allegedly concocted, he claimed that his company would mass-produce the potentially life-saving cure that he maintained would prevent the coronavirus. After receiving investor funds, Middlebrook would then issue shares in QP20 as well as Quantum Cure CV 2020 (QC20), an alleged separate entity Middlebrook claimed would bring the serum to market and could cure those infected with COVID-19 in two to three days, the FBI said.
This April 26, 2010 file photo shows actor Keith Middlebrook at the premiere of ‘Iron Man 2’ at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles. The FBI has arrested Middlebrook, who officials said falsely claimed to have developed a cure for the coronavirus and solicited investments in a company he said would market the medication. The U.S. Justice Department says in a statement that Keith Lawrence Middlebrook told his 2.4 million Instagram followers that his company would return hundreds of millions of dollars in profit. There are no known cures or vaccinations for the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)
In one text message allegedly sent to a potential investor, Middlebrook wrote: “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 allegedly wrote: “Investors who come in at ground level say $1M will parachute with $200M – $300M…Conservative Minimum.”
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Middlebrook was charged with one count of attempted wire fraud, a felony offense that carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in a federal penitentiary, the FBI said.
“During these difficult days, scams like this are using blatant lies to prey upon our fears and weaknesses,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in the statement. “While this may be the first federal criminal case in the nation stemming from the pandemic, it certainly will not be the last.”
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Hanna added: “I again am urging everyone to be extremely wary of outlandish medical claims and false promises of immense profits. And to those who perpetrate these schemes, know that federal authorities are out in force to protect all Americans, and we will move aggressively against anyone seeking to cheat the public during this critical time.”