A Texas man has been sentenced to 15 months in prison for posting hoaxes on Facebook that falsely claimed he had paid someone with covid-19 to lick items at two grocery stores in San Antonio, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The 40-year-old man, identified by prosecutors as Christopher Charles Perez, posted his hoaxes back in April 2020, during the early months of the pandemic, and wanted to scare people away from visiting the stores, according to the Justice Department. The messages were circulated on Facebook and eventually reported to the FBI.
Perez, who also goes by the name Christopher Robin, was convicted in June on two counts under 18 U.S.C. § 1038, which makes it a crime to distribute false information and hoaxes related to biological weapons. In this case, covid-19 was the “biological weapon” Perez was falsely claiming to use.
“PSA!! Yo rt HEB MERCADO! My homeboys cousin has covid19 and has licked every thing for past 2 days cause we paid him too [4 EMOTICONS],” Perez wrote on Facebook in April 2020, according to court documents. The court filing did not specify the emoticons Perez used.
“Big difference is we told him not to be these fucking idiots who record and post online... YOU’VE BEEN WARNED. HEB on nogalitos next ;)” Perez continued.
Perez apparently hoped to scare people away from shopping because he thought it was too dangerous, according to investigators, and followed up with another Facebook message.
“Lol...I did try to warn y’all but my homegirl changed my mind... mercado already is, nogalitos location next,” Perez wrote on Facebook.
The Department of Justice didn’t think the messages were a good idea, naturally. In fact, they saw the whole thing as criminal, as they’re wont to do.
“Trying to scare people with the threat of spreading dangerous diseases is no joking matter,” U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff said in a statement. “This office takes seriously threats to harm the community and will prosecute them to the full extent of the law.”
The U.S., like so much of the world, was reeling from covid-19 back in April 2020, and there was great uncertainty about what the future held. The country was reporting roughly 20,000 new cases each day, with a total of 1,012,583 cases of covid-19 and 58,355 deaths from the disease by the end of April. Infamously, Elon Musk said there’d be “close to zero” new cases by that time.
In October 2021, the U.S. is doing much worse, even with covid-19 vaccines at our disposal. The country is reporting about 103,000 new cases each day, with a total of over 43.8 million cases and more than 703,000 deaths since the pandemic began. And yet it’s strange to think that anyone would be criminally prosecuted for spreading fake information about covid-19 here in late 2021. Fox News does it every single day.
“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,” FBI San Antonio Division Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs said in a statement.
“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.”