Federal authorities have obtained a civil injunction against 39-year-old El Paso resident Hugo Chico in an effort to combat alleged fraud related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, announced U.S. Attorney John F. Bash; Acting Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent in Charge Erik P. Breitzke, El Paso Division; and, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven C. McCraw.
The purpose of the civil injunction is to stop Chico’s sale of fraudulent COVID-19 prevention treatments through his business and his Facebook webpage, “Centro de Medicina Fisica y Rehabilitacion.” According to court records, Chico allegedly met with undercover agents on October 5, 2020 to sell, and administer, COVID-19 prevention treatments.
This action will ensure Chico, and any others working with him, stop advertising or performing any COVID-19 treatments. 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.
HSI El Paso is seeking to warn members of the public who received unauthorized COVID-19 prevention treatments from Chico in the last several weeks. Individuals who received treatment are asked to contact HSI by calling (915) 730-7012. Those individuals are also encouraged to contact their primary care physician, local health department, free standing ER, or nearby urgent care facility for COVID-19 testing.
This enforcement action is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kirk Mangels and Eddie Castillo of the Western District of Texas. HSI El Paso and the Texas Department of Public Safety 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.
The Department of Justice recommends that Americans 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 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 Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO websites.
In addition, the public is urged to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or by e-mailing the NCDF at email@example.com.
For information about the Department of Justice’s efforts to stop COVID-19 fraud, visit www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.