Oct 7, 2021 - Health

Texas man sentenced to 15 months in jail for COVID hoax

A Covid-19 restriction signs hang outside of H-E-B supermarket on March 3, 2021 in Austin, Texas. The popular Texas supermarket chain will not require customers to wear masks when the statewide mask m

Photo: Montinique Monroe/Getty Images

A federal judge has sentenced a Texas man to 15 months in prison for perpetrating a hoax about COVID-19 last year.

Why it matters: The sentence comes as the government navigates new challenges related to pandemic fraud, including online misinformation and falsified vaccine documentation.

The big picture: Christopher Charles Perez made false claims in an April 5, 2020, Facebook post about a grocery store in San Antonio, federal prosecutors say.

  • "My homeboys cousin has covid19 and has licked everything for past two days cause we paid him too," Perez wrote. "YOU’VE BEEN WARNED."
  • Though the post was taken down after 16 minutes, someone anonymously submitted a screenshot of Perez's words to a network of law enforcement agencies called the Southwest Texas Fusion Center.

Of note: Perez later told the FBI that he had been trying to frighten people into avoiding public places "to stop them from spreading the virus," according to a federal affidavit.

  • He was found guilty of disseminating false information and hoaxes related to biological weapons in June.

What they're saying: "Perez’s actions were knowingly designed to spread fear and panic and today’s sentencing illustrates the seriousness of this crime," FBI San Antonio division special agent in charge Christopher Combs said in a statement.

  • "Trying to scare people with the threat of spreading dangerous diseases is no joking matter," U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff added.
  • "This office takes seriously threats to harm the community and will prosecute them to the full extent of the law."
  • Perez's lawyer has filed a notice with the court stating intent to pursue an appeal of Perez's conviction.

For the record: The U.S. attorney general established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force in May.

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