A homeopathic doctor in California is the first person to face federal charges for selling fake Covid-19 vaccination cards, the authorities said.
The doctor, Juli A. Mazi of Napa, Calif., also sold Covid-19 “immunization pellets” to patients, federal prosecutors said. She was arrested on Wednesday and charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of false statements related to health care matters, according to a criminal complaint. Ms. Mazi faces up to 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, the authorities said.
Ms. Mazi sold pellets for $243 that she said contained a “very minute amount” of the coronavirus that would trigger an immune response and provide “lifelong immunity to Covid-19,” the complaint said. To encourage customers to purchase the pellets, prosecutors said, Ms. Mazi falsely told them that the three Covid-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States contained “toxic ingredients.”
She also offered homeopathic immunizations for childhood illnesses that she falsely claimed would satisfy immunization requirements for California schools, according to the complaint.
Ms. Mazi could not immediately be reached for comment. It was not immediately clear if she had a lawyer.
She describes herself on her website as a naturopathic doctor who received her doctorate from the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Ore. She is trained in “traditional medical sciences” and “ancient and modern modalities” that use nature to heal, the site says.
She also offers “classical homeopathy,” a medical system developed more than 200 years ago in Germany. It uses the theory that a disease can be cured by a substance that produces similar symptoms, and the notion that medications are more effective at minimum dosages, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. There is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for illnesses, the center said, citing a 2015 assessment by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council. A number of concepts in homeopathy are not consistent with fundamental scientific concepts, the center said.
The authorities began investigating Ms. Mazi after someone filed a complaint in April saying that relatives had purchased the Covid-19 immunization pellets from her and that they had not received any of the approved Covid-19 vaccinations. In addition to the pellets, prosecutors said, Ms. Mazi also sent the family Covid-19 vaccination cards that listed Moderna. She instructed them to mark the cards to falsely state that they received the vaccine on the date they ingested the pellets.
It’s unclear how many people purchased Covid-19 immunization pellets from Ms. Mazi, but she received more than $200,000 through Square, a digital payment processing company, from January 2020 to May 2021, the complaint said. A majority of the transactions did not indicate the purpose of the payments, but 25 transactions amounting to more than $7,500 were noted to indicate that they were for Covid-19 treatments, according to the complaint.
“This defendant allegedly defrauded and endangered the public by preying on fears and spreading misinformation about F.D.A.-authorized vaccinations, while also peddling fake treatments that put people’s lives at risk,” Lisa O. Monaco, deputy attorney general, said in a statement. She added that the use of false vaccination cards allowed people to “circumvent efforts to contain the spread of the disease.”
Steven J. Ryan, special agent in charge of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, said the department would continue to investigate “fraudsters” who mislead the public.
“This doctor violated the all-important trust the public extends to health care professionals — at a time when integrity is needed the most,” he said in a statement.
In May, the authorities in California arrested the owner of a bar on charges that he had sold fake Covid-19 vaccination cards at his business. There are also concerns that people sharing photographs of their vaccination card, complete with their name and birth date, could make themselves vulnerable to identity theft or scams.