Federal agents arrest suburban Seattle man offering COVID-19 ‘vaccine’

SEATTLE — A suburban Seattle man who branded himself as a biotech expert is accused of advertising an alleged COVID-19 “vaccine” he created in his personal lab, federal authorities said Thursday.

>> Read more trending news

Johnny T. Stine, 55, of Redmond, was arrested on misdemeanor federal charges of introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington.

If convicted, Stine could face up to one year in prison, KUOW reported.

According to U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran, Stine claimed to be the founder and president of North Coast Biologics. Moran alleged that Stine claimed to have COVID-19 vaccinations as early as March 2, 2020.

Stine advertised injections of the alleged vaccine for $400 and up to $1,000 on his personal Facebook page, KUOW reported. At the time, there was no authorized COVID-19 vaccine available on the market.

“Untested, untried and potentially unsafe -- this defendant was injecting people with an unknown substance claiming it was a vaccine for COVID-19,” Moran said in a news release. “Preying on our fears in the midst of this pandemic is unconscionable.  DOJ continues to investigate and prosecute these fraud cases.”

In May 2020, Stine told KUOW that he had downloaded the coronavirus’ genome sequences from a Chinese database to create the substance. Doing so “literally took half a day to design,” he told the NPR station.

According to the federal complaint, an area resident registered a complaint about Stine injecting a person with a COVID-19 “vaccine.” Undercover investigators from the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigation met with Stine in April 2020, the news release stated. Stine allegedly said that he traveled across the U.S. to administer his vaccine, and said he would travel to Oregon and California to vaccinate family members of the undercover agents.

In late April 2020, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a cease and desist letter to Stine. In June, Stine signed a consent decree with the attorney general’s office, agreeing not to promote or sell his vaccine. In August, Stine allegedly traveled to Idaho to vaccinate a person who was an undercover agent, the news release stated. Authorities then seized the vaccine.

“The very idea that someone would prey upon fearful people seeking a COVID vaccine in the midst of a global pandemic is not only despicable, but potentially deadly behavior,” Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations operations in the Pacific Northwest, said in a statement. “Equally appalling is the exploitation of vulnerable cancer patients and their families, desperate for treatment.

“Snake oil salesmen, such as this, who endanger consumers should take this arrest as a stern warning. HSI, along with our law enforcement partners, remain dedicated to protecting the community from these criminals and the dangerous substances they sell.”

More coronavirus pandemic coverage:

>> Coronavirus: CDC acknowledges airborne transmission of COVID-19

>> Is it COVID-19, flu, cold or allergies? What is causing you to feel sick this year

>> Coronavirus: CDC updates guidance for COVID-19 testing

>> Dangerous hand sanitizer list up to more than 150 products, FDA announces

>> Wash your masks: How to clean a cloth face covering

>> Fact check: Will masks lower the oxygen level, raise the carbon dioxide in your blood?

>> How to not let coronavirus pandemic fatigue set in, battle back if it does