A Redmond entrepreneur is facing federal charges after allegedly marketing and administering an unauthorized coronavirus vaccine — even after receiving multiple warnings from state and federal officials to stop, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle.
Johnny Stine, 55, a self-described biotech expert, was arrested Thursday after being accused of “introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce,” U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran said in a statement.
According to Moran, Stine offered to inject customers with a “nCoV19 spike protein vaccine” for $400 to $1,000 through his company, North Coast Biologics, as early as March 2020 — well before any coronavirus vaccine had been federally approved.
“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 the statement. “Preying on our fears in the midst of this pandemic is unconscionable. DOJ continues to investigate and prosecute these fraud cases.”
It’s unclear how many people Stine allegedly treated with the unauthorized material, though a Superior Court lawsuit filed in King County in June 2020 accused him of administering it to about 30 people in Washington and other states.
Stine did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The complaint stated an undercover investigator contacted Stine after the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigation was alerted to his social media posts offering a vaccine in early March. Stine told the investigator his main biotech effort was to create vaccines that attack cancer tumors, and that he had developed a COVID-19 vaccine through a similar method, the statement said.
In late March, the office said it received a complaint from a source, who was not identified, saying Stine had injected a friend with what he said was a COVID-19 vaccine. The next month, undercover investigators met with Stine, who told them he traveled across the country administering his vaccine.
In late April, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a cease-and-desist letter, telling Stine to stop administering his vaccine, but Stine continued to treat people, the statement said. At the time, he started describing his serum as “immunogens,” instead of “vaccines,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Stine ultimately signed a consent decree in June, agreeing not to promote or sell his vaccine and promising to repay up to 30 people to whom he had allegedly sold the vaccine, but then traveled to Idaho in August to vaccinate an undercover agent, the statement said. When he arrived in Idaho, law enforcement officials seized the substance and executed a search warrant on his Redmond warehouse, where he said he conducted his research.
Law enforcement officials were also told earlier this month at least one other person to whom Stine administered the product was in the hospital with COVID-19, the statement said.
Stine founded North Coast Biologics in 2009 to develop potential cancer-fighting antibody drugs, but state records show he did not renew his business license in 2012. Nonetheless, he continued operating a Facebook page for the company until recently taking it down after the warning letter from Ferguson’s office.
On both the company page and a personal one, Stine also boasted of having administered unapproved cancer treatments the past several years to customers in the U.S. and Canada.
Thursday’s charges are unrelated to the cease-and-desist letter and consent decree, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“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,” Robert Hammer, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations operations in the Pacific Northwest, said in the statement. “Equally appalling is the exploitation of vulnerable cancer patients and their families, desperate for treatment.”
Information from The Seattle Times archive was included.