A Trump-loving actor and self-proclaimed “genius entrepreneur” peddling a fake coronavirus cure has just become the first person to face federal coronavirus-related charges.
Keith Lawrence Middlebrook, 53, was arrested Wednesday night after trying to solicit investment in his fake COVID-19 treatment pills from an undercover FBI agent. Middlebrook falsely claimed the "remedy" he developed both cures and prevents the infection. He’d promised investors significant profits and said he’d already received backing from NBA legend Magic Johnson.
The FBI acted on a tip received 13th March from someone who Middlebrook allegedly tried to solicit for investment, according to the Washington Post. He’s now facing up to 20 years in prison on one count of attempted wire fraud.
Middlebrook has had a few small parts, mostly uncredited, in some high-profile movies, according to his IMDB page, including 2011’s Moneyball and 2010’s Iron Man 2 as well as episodes of CSI and Justified. Despite his few small roles, he’s amassed a large following on social media, with more than 2.4 million followers on Instagram.
Middlebrook has often used Instagram to praise President Trump and, more recently, to reveal what he considers the real coronavirus truth. Earlier this month, he posted a video to his Instagram downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic.
“Don’t listen to the negative news and the negative media,” he says in a video posted March 9. “There is last year alone, 61,000 deaths of the flu. The previous year, there were 80,000 deaths of the flu. I think the coronavirus is at 16? Trump’s already got it nipped in the bud. There’s already an antidote. People are getting up out of the hospital and walking away.”
Actually, more than 110,000 cases had been recorded worldwide as of March 9, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, with 3,892 recorded deaths. Both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stated there is no cure for the virus yet.
In another video that’s no longer listed on his Instagram, US Attorneys said Middlebrook showed viewers a syringe with a clear liquid that was supposedly the cure for coronavirus. As of March 24, the video had more than 633,000 views.
“During these difficult days, scams like this are using blatant lies to prey upon our fears and weaknesses,” US Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement Wednesday. “While this may be the first federal criminal case in the nation stemming from the pandemic, it certainly will not be the last.”
Last week, Attorney General William P. Barr ordered U.S. attorneys to prioritise cases involving coronavirus-related fraud. The Food and Drug Administration has also warned the public about fake coronavirus cures from opportunists trying to capitalise on the outbreak.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.