Seattle – A Redmond, Washington, man who held himself out as a biotech expert was sentenced today in federal court for introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce, announced U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. Johnny T. Stine, 57, was sentenced to 5 years of probation and $246,986 in restitution. Stine claimed to be Founder & President of North Coast Biologics. In a variety of online postings from as early as March 2, 2020, Stine claimed to have developed a COVID-19 vaccine that he offered to inject in customers for $400-$1000 each. At the sentencing hearing Magistrate Judge Brian A. Tsuchida said, “This is a difficult and troubling case…. It would be completely reasonable to send you to jail, but I’m going to give you a longer probation sentence so we can keep an eye on you.”
“This wasn’t just a COVID related scheme. From 2018-2020, Mr. Stine made more than $200,000 selling cancer patients his ‘vaccines’ that he said would cure their disease,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. “He truly preyed on those who were desperate for any glimmer of hope, injecting people with unapproved substances developed in his rented garage, with no assurance of safety or purity.”
According to records filed in the case, in early March 2020, the Food and Drug Administration - Office of Criminal Investigation (FDA-OCI), was alerted to Stine’s posts on social media. An investigator contacted Stine in an undercover capacity, and Stine represented that he had a COVID-19 vaccine for sale. Stine claimed that his main biotech effort was creating vaccines that attack cancer tumors. He indicated that he had used a similar method to develop his COVID-19 vaccine. On March 27, 2020, even as the undercover investigation was ongoing, FDA-OCI received a complaint from an area resident about Stine injecting a friend of the complainant with a “vaccine” for COVID-19.
In early April 2020, investigators met with Stine in undercover roles. Stine represented to the agents that he traveled across the U.S. giving his vaccine. Stine indicated he would make a trip to Oregon and California to vaccinate family members of the undercover agents.
In late April, responding to complaints from the public, the Washington State Attorney General issued a ‘cease and desist’ letter to Stine, telling him to stop making claims and offering his “vaccine” for COVID-19. 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.
Still, in August 2020, Stine again communicated with an undercover agent and traveled to Idaho to “vaccinate” the agent. Law enforcement contacted Stine in Idaho and seized the “vaccine.” Agents also executed a court-authorized search warrant on the Redmond warehouse where Stine claimed to conduct his research.
In asking for a custodial sentence prosecutors wrote to the court, “Mr. Stine is dangerously arrogant or overwhelmingly greedy, or both. Time and again, he placed his misguided confidence and personal interest ahead of the wellbeing of the people whose health he endangered by providing them unapproved, and most likely ineffective, medical treatment; medical treatment that dissuaded them from pursuing actual effective treatment and/or from acting in ways that would protect them from infection.”
“The FDA works tirelessly to identify and neutralize threats to consumers, including halting the sale of products with unproven claims to treat, prevent, or cure COVID-19 and other conditions, such as these unapproved injectable drugs that were purported to be ‘vaccines’,” said Special Agent in Charge Lisa L. Malinowski, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Los Angeles Field Office. “We will continue to investigate and bring to justice those whose actions threaten the public’s health in this time of heightened risks.”
“It’s important for consumers to know when someone is trying to take advantage of them, and the old adage that if it’s it too good to be true then it isn’t true certainly applies here,” said Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Robert Hammer, who oversees HSI operations in the Pacific Northwest. “Legitimate businesses do not evade law enforcement agencies and they do not evade consumer safety rules. HSI Seattle appreciates the work done by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Seattle Police Department, and we will continue utilizing all of our partnerships to ensure the health and safety of our communities.”
The case was investigated by the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Seattle Police Department.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Brian Werner and Andrew Friedman. Mr. Werner serves as the COVID-19 fraud coordinator for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.