An online threat in April 2020 that said someone was paid to spread COVID-19 at Texas grocery stores has sent a San Antonio man to federal prison for 15 months and cost him a $1,000 fine.

Christopher Charles Perez, 40, in June was convicted by a federal jury for the Texas Western District in San Antonio and was recently sentenced.

According to court records, the jury found Perez, aka Christopher Robbins, guilty of two counts of 18 U.S.C. § 1038, which criminalizes false information and hoaxes related to biological weapons.

As “Christop[her Robbins” Perez posted the threat on Facebook. It read: “PSA!! Yo it GROCERY STOREM ERCADO!! My homeboy’s cousin has covid-19 and has licked everything for the past 2 days cause we paid him too { 4 EMOTICONS] big difference is we told him not to be these ****ing idiots who record and post online, YOU’’VE  BEEN WARNED!! GROCERY STORE on nogalitos next:)”

The post was reported to the FBI via an online tip early on April 5, 2020. An agent with training in Weapons of Mass Destruction was assigned to investigate. Perez had already removed the post, but it was recovered for the FBI by the San Antonio Fusion Center. A news article is also linked to the item. As a replacement, Perez left this comment: “Lol. I did try to warn yall but my homegirl changed my mind..Mercado already is, nogalitos location next.”

When interviewed by the FBI, Perez admitted he was “Christopher Robbins” and made the threatening post. He said he was trying to scare people away from shopping during the pandemic. Perez was not working because of the COVID lock-downs.

The FBI asked Perez if he was happy that his post caused even one greenery store to close, He said he was “50/50” on that. His first post was up for 16 minutes before being taken down. The second was up for 23 hours.

Grocery store executives said no stores closed, in part because they did not want to start a panic and there was no confirmation of the threat.

Evidence presented during trial revealed that Perez posted two threatening messages on Facebook in which he claimed to have paid someone who was infected with COVID-19 to lick items at grocery stores in the San Antonio area to scare people away from visiting the stores.

The threat was false. Perez did not pay someone to intentionally spread coronavirus at grocery stores, according to investigators and Perez’s own admissions.

“Trying to scare people with the threat of spreading dangerous diseases is no joking matter,” said U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff. “This office takes seriously threats to harm the community and will prosecute them to the full extent of the law.”

“Those who would threaten to use COVID-19 as a weapon against others will be held accountable for their actions, even if the threat was a hoax,” said FBI San Antonio Division Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs. “Perez’s actions were knowingly designed to spread fear and panic and today’s sentencing illustrates the seriousness of this crime. The FBI would like to thank our law enforcement partners for their help in this case.”

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, along with Weapons of Mass Destruction personnel, conducted this investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys William R. Harris, Kelly Stephenson, and Mark Roomberg prosecuted the case.

The Department of Justice has established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud.

The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.

Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.

.(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

Source link

Another Delicious

Cannolis

Crispy and creamy, this ricotta-filled dessert is as decadent as it gets! Cannolis are the traditional Italian treats you’ll want to make again and again. There’s a reason cannolis have been loved for hundreds of years! You’ll have to try these other classic recipes. Baklava,…