Fake COVID-19 vaccine seller escapes jail

A US man who claimed to have developed a COVID-19 vaccine and injected the unapproved shot into members of the public has been ordered to pay nearly $250,000 in restitution.

Johnny T Stine (57) of Redmond, Washington – who claimed to be founder and president of a company called North Coast Biologics – started offering a vaccine for COVID-19 for sale in March 2020, right at the start of the pandemic.

He offered to inject people with the fake " nCoV19 spike protein vaccine" for $400 to $1,000 per dose.

It was an opportunistic move for an individual with a track record of offering unapproved vaccines for cancer, making an estimated $200,000 from that scam between 2018 and 2020.

Stine escaped a custodial sentence but was sentenced to five years' probation – which raised some eyebrows considering he was injecting people with a substance that could have caused harm, with no assurance of safety or purity.

Explaining the decision, Judge Brian Tsuchida said that it would be "reasonable" to send Stime to jail but he opted for a longer probation sentence "so we can keep any eye on you."

Investigators started looking closely at Stine's activities in April 2020, sending a "cease and desist" letter to him shortly afterwards which was ignored. He was also sent a warning letter by the FDA in May 2020 over the "unlicensed biological product."

"Rather than be deterred, Stine indicated it had just increased demand for his injections which he now called an 'immunogen' instead of a vaccine. In June, Stine signed a consent decree with the Washington State Attorney General wherein he agreed not to promote or sell his COVID-19 vaccine," said the Department of Justice in a statement.

However, "in August 2020, Stine again communicated with an undercover agent and travelled to Idaho to 'vaccinate' the agent," it continues. "Law enforcement contacted Stine in Idaho and seized the 'vaccine'." 

At the same time, agents executed a court-authorised search warrant on the Redmond warehouse where Stine claimed to conduct his research.

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