Federal Court Issues Temporary Restraining Order Against Man Offering Fraudulent Coronavirus Treatments

Today, federal authorities served a temporary restraining order upon Fort Davis, Texas, resident Marc “White Eagle” Travalino in an effort to combat alleged fraud related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  The restraining order was issued on Monday, June 1, 2020, by United States District Judge David Counts of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas and was unsealed today.

The government filed the civil action in order to stop Travalino from committing mail and wire fraud by peddling fraudulent remedies for a host of diseases and medical conditions, including COVID-19, through his business and his website, “whiteeaglenativeherbs.net.”  According to court records, Travalino sells product that he claims “are proven to work and destroy” coronavirus. In fact, there are no drugs or other therapeutics that have been demonstrated to cure or prevent COVID-19.

“When sellers falsely promise cures for serious diseases, they put the public health at risk,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “The Department of Justice is committed to preventing fraudsters from exploiting this pandemic.”

After guaranteeing an undercover special agent that his hospitalized grandmother would not die from COVID-19 if given the medicine, Travalino allegedly sold the agent a treatment for COVID-19 on May 5, 2020.  On May 14, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent Travalino a warning letter requiring him to cease and desist sales of unapproved and unproven products related to COVID-19 cures and treatments.  But almost a week after he was warned to stop, Travalino again sold his fraudulent COVID-19 treatments to another undercover agent. 

Today’s action will shutter Travalino’s business and website immediately while this investigation continues.  In so doing, the government is employing a federal statute that permits federal courts to issue injunctions to prevent harm to potential victims of fraudulent schemes.

The Department of Justice recommends that Americans to take the following precautionary measures to protect themselves from known and emerging scams related to COVID-19:

  • Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19.
  • Check the websites and email addresses offering information, products, or services related to COVID-19.  Be aware that scammers often employ addresses that differ only slightly from those belonging to the entities they are impersonating.  For example, they might use “cdc.com” or “cdc.org” instead of “cdc.gov.”
  • Be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies, or treatment for COVID-19 or requesting your personal information for medical purposes.  Legitimate health authorities will not contact the general public this way.
  • Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources.  Doing so could download a virus onto your computer or device.
  • Make sure the anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer is operating and up to date.
  • Ignore offers from suspicious sources for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure, or treatment.  Remember, if a vaccine becomes available, you won’t hear about it for the first time through an email, online ad, or unsolicited sales pitch.
  • Check online reviews of any company offering COVID-19 products or supplies.  Avoid companies whose customers have complained about not receiving items.
  • Research any charities or crowdfunding sites soliciting donations in connection with COVID-19 before giving any donation.  Remember, an organization may not be legitimate even if it uses words like “CDC” or “government” in its name or has reputable looking seals or logos on its materials.  For online resources on donating wisely, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.
  • Be wary of any business, charity, or individual requesting payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer, gift card, or through the mail.  Don’t send money through any of these channels.
  • Be cautious of “investment opportunities” tied to COVID-19, especially those based on claims that a small company’s products or services can help stop the virus.  If you decide to invest, carefully research the investment beforehand.  For information on how to avoid investment fraud, visit the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website.

For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, consumers may visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO websites.  The public is urged to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 (the Coronavirus) to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline by phone at (1-866-720-5721) or via an online reporting form available at www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/webform/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.      

The enforcement action taken today is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Cannizzaro, Eddie Castillo and Michael C. Galdo of the Western District of Texas, and Senior Litigation Counsel Ross S. Goldstein of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch.  The FBI’s El Paso Field Office and the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations are conducting the investigation.

The claims made in the complaint are allegations that, if the case were to proceed to trial, the government must prove to receive a permanent injunction against the defendant.

Additional information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts may be found at www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch.  For more information about the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas, visit its website at www.justice.gov/usao-wdtx.  For information about the Department of Justice’s efforts to stop COVID-19 fraud, visit www.justice.gov/coronavirus.

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Author: June 2, 2020

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