Tom Dreisbach | Michigan Radio
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Tom Dreisbach

Tom Dreisbach is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories.

His reporting on issues like COVID-19 scams and immigration detention has sparked federal investigations and has been cited by members of congress. Earlier, Dreisbach was a producer and editor for NPR's Embedded, where his work examined how opioids helped cause an HIV outbreak in Indiana, the role of video evidence in police shootings and the controversial development of Donald Trump's Southern California golf club. In 2018, he was awarded a national Edward R. Murrow Award from RTDNA. Prior to Embedded, Dreisbach was an editor for All Things Considered, NPR's flagship afternoon news show.

Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, as governments scrambled to find rapid and reliable coronavirus tests, three states ended up turning to a small public company that just months earlier had no major customers and was losing millions of dollars.

A member of Congress, who has led efforts to investigate alleged coronavirus scams, is calling for the federal government to crack down on an unproven treatment for COVID-19. Widespread sales of that purported treatment - a drug known as thymosin alpha-1 - were first identified by an NPR investigation earlier this month.

Just as the coronavirus pandemic began its rapid and deadly spread across the United States, a well-known doctor named Dominique Fradin-Read told thousands of viewers tuning into an Instagram Live video that she had an answer: "one of the best ways to prevent and fight COVID-19."

Whether the coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna succeeds or not, executives at the small biotech company have already made tens of millions of dollars by cashing in their stock. An NPR examination of official company disclosures has revealed additional irregularities and potential warning signs.

"On a scale of one to 10, one being less concerned and 10 being the most concerned," said Daniel Taylor, an associate professor of accounting at the Wharton School, "this is an 11."

The federal government has repeatedly warned Americans about scammers trying to sell dietary supplements as a remedy for COVID-19 when medical experts say supplements are neither safe nor effective for treating the disease.

But if consumers type "coronavirus supplement" or "COVID supplement" into the search bar at Amazon.com, not only does the online retailer auto-complete the search, it serves up pages and pages of supplements without any warning about the scientific evidence.

Dr. Lauren Jenkins says her medical training has always taught her to think of the worst-case scenario. And one day this past March, that's exactly where her mind went.

It was early into the coronavirus pandemic. Jenkins, a 37-year-old obstetrician-gynecologist who practices at a hospital in Philadelphia, was cooking for her husband and their nearly three-year-old twins, Pierce and Ashton.

That's when she got a call from a colleague. An anesthesiologist she had worked with during a long surgery about one week earlier had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The city attorney of Los Angeles announced Wednesday that his office is suing Wellness Matrix Group for allegedly engaging in a "fraudulent scheme" related to the COVID-19 pandemic that was both "sophisticated" and "wide ranging."

In late March, the California company RootMD started advertising "at-home Covid-19 exposure and immunity tests" for consumers worried about the coronavirus. For $249, the company said it would mail out a test kit — including a "lancet" that buyers could use to prick their finger and collect a blood sample. Then, the company promised, consumers could mail that sample back to "certified MD immunologists" to test for antibodies to the coronavirus, and get results within 48 hours.

The kind of financial schemes depicted in movies like The Wolf Of Wall Street and Boiler Room never went away, and Wall Street's top cops are warning investors that the coronavirus has only created new opportunities for that type of financial fraud.

In response, the Securities And Exchange Commission has "substantially accelerated" its pace of enforcement related to the pandemic, says Stephanie Avakian, who co-directs the SEC's enforcement division.

Mike Feuer, the city attorney of Los Angeles, announced on Monday that his office had "filed a civil law enforcement action against, and achieved an immediate settlement with," a company that had been "illegally selling" an at-home test for the coronavirus.

With government authorities warning an anxious public about scams related to the coronavirus, a California company is facing scrutiny by members of Congress and the city attorney of Los Angeles for selling COVID-19 test kits that it claimed can be used "in the home or at the bedside."