‘Vaccine’ peddler who caused controversy in Friday Harbor charged

In April 2020, Johnny T. Stine was making plans with his long-time friend Farhad Ghatan, the mayor of Friday Harbor. Stine was to bring with Ghatan a self-made COVID-19 “vaccine” to share with him and his family.

Flash forward to Jan. 22, Stine, 55, was arrested and charged by the federal government with “introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce,” according to a press release from the United States Department of Justice. The charges are misdemeanor federal crimes, punishable by up to one year in prison.

“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. Equally appalling is the exploitation of vulnerable cancer patients and their families, desperate for treatment,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations operations in the Pacific Northwest said in a press release. “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.”

The case is being investigated by the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations, Homeland Security Investigations and the Seattle Police Department and is being prosecuted by U.S. Attorney’s Office’s COVID-19 Fraud Coordinator, and Assistant United States Attorney, Brian Werner.

Friday Harbor community members questioned the mayor’s thinking when he invited Stine in April 2020 — amid a health order restricting travel and accommodations within the islands. Stine then made larger waves in the community by lashing out, using vulgar language and name-calling when some began to label him as a snake-oil salesman.

In an article by The Journal, Ghatan apologized to his constituents, saying, “Having this discussion during a period when travel to the islands was strongly discouraged was simply wrong and I am sorry. It was also wrong to discuss a private medical issue on a public forum and that this error in judgment turned into a forum for public debate.”

Many of those involved in the group discussion claimed that they’ve notified several authorities including the Washington Department of Health, the Washington Attorney General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“In a variety of online postings from as early as March 2, 2020, Stine claimed to have a COVID-19 vaccine that he offered to inject in customers for $400-$1000 each,” the press release continued.

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

According to the press release, in early March 2020, the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigation was notified about Stine’s social media marketing his “vaccine.” An undercover investigator contacted Stine who reportedly said he had a COVID vaccine for sale.

“Stine claimed that his main biotech effort was creating vaccines that attack cancer tumors,” the press release said. “He indicated that he had used a similar method to develop his COVID-19 vaccine.”

Amid the ongoing undercover investigation, in March 2020, the FDA received additional complaints of Stine administering his “vaccine,” the press release continued.

“Just this month, January 2021, law enforcement was alerted that at least one person who had been ‘vaccinated’ by Stine was in the hospital battling COVID-19,” the release said.

When Stine met up with undercover investigators in April 2020, Stine allegedly shared with the agents that he had sold his “vaccine” across the country and had planned upcoming transactions across state lines, the press release stated.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a cease and desist letter to Stine in April 2020.

“Rather than be deterred, Stine indicated it had just increased demand for his injections which he now called ‘immunogen’ instead of a vaccine,” the release said.

Stine signed a consent degree with Ferguson in June 2020 agreeing to not promote or sell his “vaccine.” According to KUOW, Stine agreed to surrender “vaccine” buyer names and contact information; disclose how much Stine charged for the “vaccination”; and payback refund requests. In the event of failure to obey these rules, a noncompliance fee of $30,000 was included in the contract. Two months later, the press release continued, law enforcement contacted Stine in Idaho, seizing his “vaccine.”

The federal investigation also revealed Stine had allegedly preyed on cancer patients, selling them untested “vaccines” to battle malignant tumors, the press release said.

“Unproven injectable vaccines purported to prevent or treat COVID-19, made from unknown substances under unknown conditions, present significant health risks in and of themselves. They also can lead consumers to make lifestyle choices that increase their actual risk of infection with COVID-19, or to delay or stop appropriate medical treatment,” said Lisa L. Malinowski, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Los Angeles Field Office in the DOJ press release. “The FDA will continue to investigate fraudulent COVID-19 treatments and bring to justice those who try to profit from the pandemic by offering unproven and illegally marketed coronavirus products.”