A homeopathic doctor in California is the first person to be charged by the federal government for selling fake Covid-19 vaccination cards, authorities said.

The doctor Juli A. Mazi from Napa, California, also sold Covid-19 “vaccine pellets” to patients, the federal prosecutor said. She was arrested on Wednesday and charged with wire fraud and false testimony regarding health matters, according to a criminal complaint. Ms. Mazi could face up to 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, authorities said.

Ms. Mazi sold pellets for $ 243, which she said contained a “very tiny amount” of the coronavirus that would trigger an immune response and provide “lifelong immunity to Covid-19,” the complaint said. To encourage customers to buy the pellets, prosecutors said Ms. Mazi falsely told them that the three Covid-19 vaccines approved for use in the US contained “toxic ingredients.”

It also offered homeopathic vaccinations for childhood diseases that it falsely claimed would meet vaccination requirements for California schools, the complaint said.

Ms. Mazi was not immediately available for comment. It wasn’t immediately clear whether she had a lawyer.

She describes herself on her website as a naturopathic doctor who received her PhD from the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. She is trained in “traditional medical sciences” and “ancient and modern modalities” that nature says use for healing.

It also offers “classic homeopathy”, a medical system developed in Germany more than 200 years ago. It uses the theory that a substance can be cured by a substance that causes similar symptoms and the notion that drugs are more effective at minimal dosages, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. There is little evidence that homeopathy is an effective treatment for disease, the center said, citing a 2015 assessment by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council. A number of concepts in homeopathy are inconsistent with basic scientific concepts agreed, said the center.

Authorities began investigating Ms. Mazi after someone filed a complaint in April that relatives bought her the Covid-19 vaccine tablets and had not received any of the approved Covid-19 vaccinations. In addition to the pellets, Ms. Mazi also sent the family’s Covid 19 vaccination cards, on which Moderna was listed, according to the prosecutor. She instructed them to mark the cards to falsely indicate that they received the vaccine on the day they ingested the pellets.

It is unclear how many people bought Covid-19 vaccine pellets from Ms. Mazi, but she received more than $ 200,000 through Square, a digital payment processing company, from January 2020 to May 2021, the complaint said. Most of the transactions did not specify the purpose of the payments, but 25 transactions worth more than $ 7,500 were recorded to indicate that the complaint was for Covid-19 treatments.

“This defendant allegedly betrayed and endangered the public by exploiting fears and spreading misinformation about FDA-approved vaccinations while selling counterfeit treatments that put people’s lives at risk,” said Lisa O. Monaco, assistant attorney general , in a statement. She added that using false vaccination cards allowed people to “bypass efforts to contain the spread of the disease”.

Steven J. Ryan, special envoy for the inspector general’s office for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the department will continue to investigate “scammers” who are misleading the public.

“This doctor has violated the important public trust in health professionals at a time when integrity is most needed,” he said in a statement.

In May, California authorities arrested the owner of a bar on charges of selling fake Covid-19 vaccination cards in his shop. There is also concern that people who share photos of their vaccination card with their name and date of birth could leave them at risk of identity theft or fraud.