California Hospital Worker Stole Hydroxychloroquine, Prosecutors Say

harbor-ucla medical center california

Brittany Murray/Getty Tents are just outside the main entrance to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance on Wednesday, April 1, 2020.

Christopher Mencias Agustin is a 35-year-old former pharmacy technician at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in California who is accused of stealing hydroxychloroquine pills from the hospital, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. The anti-malaria medication, which is also used to treat other health issues, has been touted as a possible treatment for the COVID-19 coronavirus by President Donald Trump, his supporters and others, but has not yet been proven to be effective.

Agustin is accused of two felony counts of second-degree burglary during an emergency and one felony count of concealing or withholding stolen property exceeding $950, District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in an April 22 statement. Agustin is accused of stealing the tablets from the Torrance hospital in March, the prosecutor’s office said.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement, “Based on the foreseen high demand of (hydroxychloroquine) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital stakeholders and hospital personnel have concentrated their inventory monitoring efforts of their supplies. They quickly noticed a discrepancy.” The LASD said that when taken outside the care of a medical professional, hydroxychloroquine can be fatal.

Agustin appeared in court for the first time on April 22. He could not be reached for comment by Heavy and it is not known if he has hired an attorney who could comment on his behalf. The Harbor-UCLA Medical Center did not immediately return a request for comment from Heavy.

Heres what you need to know about Christopher Mencias Agustin and the accusations against him:

Agustin Faces Up to 4 Years & 4 Months in Prison if Convicted of the Charges

Medical Staff in France

GettyPackets of chloroquine.

Agustin faces up to four years and four months in prison if convicted of the three felony charges filed against him, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office says. According to prosecutors, “On two separate occasions, the defendant is accused of entering Harbor-UCLA Medical Center to steal prescription drugs. More than 700 tablets of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, which are used to treat malaria and recently touted to possibly combat COVID-19, were allegedly taken.”

Deputy District Attorney Michael Fern of the office’s cybercrime division is prosecuting the case and said in a statement that the tablets are worth about $6,700 total. It is not clear if investigators believe Agustin tried to sell the tablets.

“If convicted as charged, the defendant faces a possible maximum sentence of four years and four months in jail,” prosecutors said in the press release. “The case remains under investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.”

Agustin is not the first California health worker to be charged in connection to hydroxychloroquine. On April 16, the Southern District of California U.S. Attorney’s Office announced federal charges against Dr. Jennings Ryan Staley, a licensed physician and med spa operator, who was accused of selling tablets of hydroxychloroquine to people and calling them a “100% cure” for COVID-19, according to a press release. Staley was charged with mail fraud. The 44-year-old doctor faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

“The sale of false cures, especially by a medical professional, will be vigorously investigated by the FBI,” Omer Meisel, the Acting special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Diego Field Office, said in a statement. “The FBI is using a variety of tools to identify anyone who exploits the current crisis with fraudulent scams or a variety of cyber schemes – and is proactively warning the public about products claiming to save lives, before losing their money or creating false hope. Scammers seeking to profit by exploiting fear and uncertainty during this COVID-19 pandemic will be brought to justice.”

U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer Jr. said in a statement, “We will not tolerate COVID-19 fraudsters who try to profit and take advantage of the pandemic fear to cheat, steal and harm others. Rest assured: those who engage in this despicable conduct will find themselves in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors.”

Agustin Is a Licensed Pharmacy Technician in California, With His License Set to Expire in 2021


Bottles of hydroxychloroquine pills.

Agustin is a licensed pharmacy technician in California, according to online records from the Board of Pharmacy. His license was issued on July 20, 2004, and it is set to expire on November 20, 2021. His license status is showing as clear. According to the Board of Pharmacy:

A “clear” license entitles the individual or firm to perform all duties authorized to the specific type of license, unless (1) a pharmacist has renewed his or her license on inactive status, or (2) unless the license has been restricted by a disciplinary order of the board. When the word ‘probation’ appears under ‘clear’ board disciplinary restrictions are listed at the bottom of the screen.

A spokesperson for the Board of Pharmacy did not immediately return a request from Heavy about whether an inquiry has been launched into Agustin, and whether he could face disciplinary sanctions as a result of his arrest. It is also not known how long Agustin worked at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Prosecutors called him a former hospital worker, but Harbor-UCLA has not said if he was fired by the hospital, and if so, when that occurred.

The sheriff’s office said in a statement, “Detectives served a search warrant at the suspect’s residence in the city of Torrance on Thursday, April 9, 2020. During the search, additional prescription drugs and one controlled substance were recovered at the location. Due to the current COVID-19 public health emergency, and the heightened public vulnerability regarding the propensity for citizens to purchase these types of medications, LASD is urging the public not to buy from someone other than a healthcare provider or pharmacist working inside a licensed pharmacy location.”

Agustin was initially arrested by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department on March 31 and booked into the Los Angeles County Jail, according to sheriff’s office records. He was released the next day after posting $20,000 bail. Agustin was arrested again on April 21 and held on $100,000 bond. But he was released on his own recognizance after making his first court appearance on April 22.

Hydroxychloroquine Drugs Have Been Harder to Find Because of the Claims About Its Effectiveness in Treating COVID-19

trump fauci hydroxychloroquine

GettyPresident Donald Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Hydroxychloroquine has been in the public spotlight since March after it was first revealed as a potential treatment for COVID-19 in a small study of its use in France and China. That study has since been called into question. Trump began promoting the drug after a guest on Fox News talked about it on Tucker Carlson’s show. Trump said COVID-19 patients and their families should be given the right to try the drug.

“It’s a very strong, powerful medicine, but it doesn’t kill people. We have some very good results and some very good tests. You’ve seen the same test that I have,” Trump said on April 6. In France, they had a very good test. But we don’t have time to go and say, gee, let’s take a couple of years and test it out. And let’s go and test with the test tubes and the laboratories. We don’t have time. I’d love to do that.”

An unintended consequence of Trump talking about drug came about for those who have been relying on it for years as a lupus treatment. According to ProPublica, lupus patients have struggled to get the crucial medication in March and April.

Federal and state authorities have been on the lookout for coronavirus-related scams, especially among those who are in the medical field or claim to be in the medical field. After the arrest of Staley, Lisa Malinowski, the special agent in charge of the FDA’s office of criminal investigations in Los Angeles, said in a statement, “The FDA will continue to collaborate with our fellow law enforcement partners to bring to justice those who place profits above the public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today’s announcement should serve as a reminder that we will take appropriate action against bad actors who take advantage of a crisis while jeopardizing the health of Americans.”

READ NEXT: These Are the Victims of the Nova Scotia Shooting Rampage

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x