Feuer Also Announces Charges of Price Gouging of Hand Sanitizer
LOS ANGELES – Continuing to tackle COVID-related consumer scams and price gouging via their Joint Coronavirus Task Force, City Attorney Mike Feuer and County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced today that they are bringing action against L.A. area’s Applied BioSciences Corp, its President Chris Bridges, and Founder and Chairman Scott Stevens, for unlawfully advertising and selling an in-home COVID-19 antibody blood test that has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Feuer and Lacey, working in partnership with the federal DOJ COVID19 Fraud Task Force in Washington DC, are seeking an injunction to prevent these tests from being sold in the future, restitution for customers who bought it and significant civil penalties.
"This is yet another alleged example of an attempt to cash in on fear and anxiety in this crisis, with tests whose results can’t be trusted," said Feuer. "With so much emphasis on testing, companies selling non-approved tests build false hope and sow confusion. In this crisis, Angelenos’ health depends on accurate, reliable information and legitimate products that can actually help them."
"Fraudulent medical testing can give consumers a false sense of hope that may contribute to the spread of the coronavirus," District Attorney Lacey warned. "People who believe they are healthy are more likely to return to work and otherwise move about more freely, increasing the risks to themselves and others. These types of scams jeopardize the health of us all."
Applied BioSciences is a corporation with offices in Beverly Hills, California, that allegedly claims “is focused on the development and commercialization of novel, science-driven, synthetic cannabinoid therapeutics / biopharmaceuticals that target the endocannabinoid system to treat a wide-range of diseases.” The investigation by Lacey and Feuer revealed that the defendants allegedly marketed their antibody test to “Homes, Schools, Hospitals, Law Enforcement, Military and Public Servants,” and claimed the tests could diagnose COVID-19 with “96.3% accuracy” in just “15 minutes” from a single finger prick of blood. Applied BioSciences allegedly marketed this test on their website and allegedly advertised and sold the kits for $35 each.
The defendants allegedly further advertised that their test had been “widely used by the Chinese Government to detect infections” and that it allegedly offered “accurate, affordable and reliable results.”
Last week, the FDA authorized the first diagnostic test with a home collection option for COVID-19, but this test – which still requires authorization and analysis from a healthcare provider – is a nasal swab, not a blood test, and it looks for current infections. The test from Applied BioSciences Corp., by contrast, is a blood test which looks for the presence of antibodies and a past infection, and has not received such FDA approval.
In fact, the FDA has specifically warned that “serological” testing, the type sold by Applied BioSciences, should not be used alone without other tests or diagnostic tools. Other published reports have similarly warned about the reliability of some antibody blood tests for COVID-19.
The United States Department of Defense first brought the defendant company to the attention of City Attorney Feuer and County District Attorney Lacey, who then worked in partnership with the DOJ COVID19 Fraud Task Force, which operates out of Washington, DC.
Los Angeles is now offering free testing for COVID-19 to every resident of Los Angeles County. Find out more and schedule your test here.
In related news, Feuer announced that as part of his crackdown on COVID-related price gouging, his office has filed criminal charges against Brian Gonzalez, a third-party seller on Amazon doing business as “Check Out Time.” Gonzalez allegedly inflated the price of single 8 oz. bottles of Purell hand sanitizer from $19.98 to as much as $54.90.
In the wake of the outbreak, Amazon officials monitoring the site for price gouging notified the City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit about Check Out Time’s online activity between late February and March 5, 2020, one day after a public health emergency was declared. Although an 8 oz. bottle of Purell typically sells for $3 - $4, in high-demand due to the growing pandemic, Check Out Time allegedly offered it for $19.98 in late February and for as much as $54.90 on March 4. City Attorney Feuer has filed 19 counts of price gouging against Gonzalez, one for each of the bottles he allegedly sold.
Online sellers, such as Gonzalez, and brick and mortar sellers can be subject to up to one year in jail and/or a fine of $10,000 per count for violating California’s price gouging statute.
Feuer also provided an update on a previous judgment his office has secured against Santa Monica-based RootMD, over the sales and marketing of its in-home test for COVID-19. In this matter, nearly 800 customers have already received restitution for tests they had purchased, for a total of $176,000.
Consumers can report to instances of COVID-related scams or price gouging at www.lacityattorney.org/covid19 or by calling 213-978-8070.
Read the complaint against Applied BioSciences Corp.
Read the complaint against Brian Gonzalez of Check Out Time.
These cases are being litigated by Supervising Deputy City Attorney Christina Tusan, Deputy City Attorneys William Pletcher, Alex Bergjans, Miguel Ruiz, Carr Teksoky; Head Deputy District Attorney Stan Williams and Deputy District Attorney Seza Mikikian.