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Ex-pharmacy worker charged with stealing more than 700 tablets of hydroxychloroquine

Medical staff shows on February 26, 2020 at the IHU Mediterranee Infection Institute in Marseille, a packet of Plaqueril, tablets containing hydroxychloroquine, drug that has shown signs of effectiveness against coronavirus. - The Mediterranee infection Institute in Marseille based in La Timone Hospital is at the forefront of the prevention against coronavirus in France. (Photo by GERARD JULIEN / AFP) (Photo by GERARD JULIEN/AFP via Getty Images via CNN)

LOS ANGELES (KTLA) — An ex-pharmacy worker has been charged with stealing hundreds of tablets of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug widely promoted as a treatment for COVID-19, from the hospital where he worked, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday.

Christopher Mencias Agustin, 36, of Torrance pleaded not guilty to two felony counts of second-degree burglary during an emergency, and one felony count of concealing or withholding stolen property exceeding $950, the DA’s office said.

Prosecutors allege that on two separate occasions, Agustin went to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and stole more than 700 tablets of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, which are both used to treat malaria and are believed to possibly help treat patients with coronavirus.

Prosecutors estimate the total value of the stolen tablets at about $6,700.

Though the drug has received attention after some studies and anecdotal reports pointed to it as a potential treatment for COVID-19, health experts have stressed that the research is still limited and there’s not yet enough scientific evidence to back the claims.

Agustin was arrested on suspicion of grand theft and burglary on March 31. Detectives served a search warrant at Agustin’s home in Torrance on April 9, and seized more prescription drugs and one controlled substance, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reported.

Agustin was being held on $100,000 bail.

If convicted as charged, he faces a possible maximum sentence of four years and four months in jail.