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Man accused of selling fake COVID-19 cure arrested after 3 years at large

A Utah man accused of posing as a doctor and making at least $2 million selling a fake COVID-19 cure was arrested last week, ending a three-year search that was part of a Justice Department initiative to stem illegal profiteering amid the pandemic, prosecutors said this week.

The man, Gordon Hunter Pedersen, 63, of Cedar Hills, Utah, was arrested Aug. 9, about a month after he was seen on a surveillance camera at a gas station roughly 40 miles south of Salt Lake City, according to court documents. He fled prosecution in 2020 after being charged with seven felonies including mail fraud, wire fraud and selling misbranded drugs with the intent to defraud and mislead, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah said in a statement Monday.

Since at least 2014, Pedersen sold products that promoted silver as a cure for various diseases including arthritis, diabetes and pneumonia, prosecutors said. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Pedersen began promoting the products as a cure for COVID-19 in 2020, prosecutors said.

Falsely presenting himself as a medical doctor, prosecutors said, Pedersen sold a product called “structural alkaline silver,” which he claimed could “destroy the membrane of the virus” and cure COVID-19. He promoted the false cure through YouTube videos, Facebook posts, podcasts and websites, they added.

In his videos, Pedersen wore a white lab coat with a monogram that added “Dr.” to his name and falsely claimed that he was a board-certified “anti-aging medical doctor” with doctorates in immunology and naturopathic medicine, prosecutors said.

“There is no drug that man has made that can do the same,” Pedersen said about the product on a podcast interview in March 2020, according to court documents. “If you have the silver in you, when the virus arrives, the silver can isolate and eliminate the virus,” he added. In an interview with federal agents in April 2020, he maintained that his silver product could destroy COVID-19 but admitted that his credentials were exaggerated, prosecutors said.

Pedersen profited immensely: From January through April of 2020, the company Pedersen co-owned, My Doctor Suggests, generated roughly $2 million in sales, according to court documents.

A restraining order was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah in July 2020, stopping Pedersen from labeling the products as cure-alls, the Justice Department said in a statement at the time, and he was indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with the scheme. (One of the websites is still active and now redirects visitors to Amazon, where a product is available for $40.) Days later, though, he did not appear at a court hearing, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

After three years on the run, Pedersen was spotted by a special agent with the Food and Drug Administration on July 5 in a car registered to his wife, Julia Currey, prosecutors said. The agent followed the car to a gas station, where he was recorded by a surveillance camera, prosecutors said.

Robert Hunt, a lawyer for Pedersen, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Pedersen’s wife could not immediately be reached by phone Tuesday.

Pedersen appeared at a detention hearing Tuesday in federal court in Salt Lake City, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Utah. Prosecutors argued that as a fugitive, he should be detained while awaiting trial because he was a serious flight risk, according to court documents. No trial date has been set.

The case against Pedersen was supported in part by a task force created by Attorney General Merrick Garland in 2021 with the goal of prosecuting people and businesses trying to “profit unlawfully from the pandemic,” according to a Justice Department statement at the time. The task force developed amid the rampant spread of misinformation surrounding the virus and its unproven treatments, including salt water gargling, sunlight and vitamins.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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