Texas man sentenced to 15 months in jail for COVID hoax
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.