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Crime California man charged with coronavirus-linked fraud

06:50  26 march  2020
06:50  26 march  2020 Source:   reuters.com

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Southern California man was arrested on Wednesday on a federal fraud charge alleging he solicited investments in a company that would market a pill that would prevent the coronavirus , the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement.

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department brought its first criminal case connected to the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday against a Southern California man who tried to solicit investment in a company he claimed had developed a COVID-19 cure.

The Department of Justice seal is seen, ahead of a news conference of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speaks announcing the indictment against international computer hacking, at Department of Justice in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. The Justice Department says two Iranian computer hackers have been charged in connection with multimillion-dollar cybercrime and extortion scheme that targeted U.S. government agencies and businesses. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) © Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo The Department of Justice seal is seen, ahead of a news conference of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speaks announcing the indictment against international computer hacking, at Department of Justice in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. The Justice Department says two Iranian computer hackers have been charged in connection with multimillion-dollar cybercrime and extortion scheme that targeted U.S. government agencies and businesses. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Keith Lawrence Middlebrook, 53, was charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles with one count of attempted wire fraud.

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An image of a chain link . It symobilizes a website link url. A stylized bird with an open mouth A man accused of licking items in a Walmart store during the coronavirus outbreak has been A man who police accused of licking items in a Missouri Walmart has been charged with making a terrorist threat.

The 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic is an ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

Middlebrook "claimed to have personally developed a 'patent-pending cure' and a treatment that prevents coronavirus infection," the Justice Department said in a statement.

He was arrested after an undercover agent posed as an investor during a meeting where Middlebrook delivered the pills that he claimed would prevent people from developing the virus.

As part of the scheme, the department said, he also falsely claimed that former Los Angeles basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson was a board member of the company, Quantum Prevention CV Inc.

On his Instagram page, prosecutors said, Middlebrook showed viewers a syringe with a clear liquid.

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CDC says person is not known to have traveled to outbreak zone, suggesting virus may be spreading within community.

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"Yes I have developed the cure for coronavirus COVID-19," he is quoted as saying in the department's release. "After 6 weeks of intense focus and development (and very little sleep). I am currently going into mass production." 

The department added that about 2 million viewers have seen his videos on YouTube and Instagram.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California said Middlebrook does not yet have an attorney and will appear in federal court on Thursday.

The case against Middlebrook comes after Attorney General William Barr this month ordered all U.S. Attorney offices to prioritize investigations into coronavirus scams, such as the peddling of fake cures, investment schemes and Medicare fraud.

In a memo, issued on Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said tips had already started pouring in.

The memo also said that anyone who tries to threaten people with exposure to the virus could be prosecuted under anti-terrorism laws, noting that COVID-19 meets the definition of a "biological agent."

The Justice Department announced its first civil coronavirus-related case on Sunday, saying it had closed down a website selling non-existent vaccines. 

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Eric Beech. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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