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A Texas man was sentenced to 15 months in prison on Monday for perpetrating a hoax related to COVID-19 last year.
Christopher Charles Perez, 40, was found guilty on two counts of disseminating false information and hoaxes related to biological weapons, according to CBS News.
Perez posted a message on Facebook in April 2020 that claimed he paid someone infected with COVID-19 to lick items at a grocery store in San Antonio to scare people away from visiting the store. In another post, he included a link to a news story about a store that closed after an employee tested positive for the virus and said a San Antonio H-E-B store would be next.
Screenshots were sent as an online tip to the Southwest Texas Fusion Center, a group of law enforcement agencies that investigates potential criminal and terrorist activity. The center then contacted the FBI office in San Antonio.
After investigating, officials determined that the threats were false and that Perez didn’t pay anyone to intentionally spread COVID-19. Perez also said the posts were fake.
“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,” Christopher Combs, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Antonio division, said in a statement Monday.
“Perez’s actions were knowingly designed to spread fear and panic, and today’s sentencing illustrates the seriousness of this crime,” he said.
In addition to the 15-month sentence, Perez was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine. On Wednesday, his attorney filed a notice with the court stating that he would appeal the conviction, according to The New York Times.
The investigation was done by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, along with Weapons of Mass Destruction personnel. In May, the U.S. Attorney General’s Office established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to combat pandemic-related fraud.
“Trying to scare people with the threat of spreading dangerous diseases is no joking matter,” Ashley C. Hoff, a U.S. attorney in the Western District of Texas, said in the statement.
“This office takes seriously threats to harm the community and will prosecute them to the full extent of the law,” she said.
CBS News: “Texas man sentenced to 15 months in prison for spreading COVID-19 hoax on Facebook.”
United States Attorney’s Office, Western District of Texas: “San Antonio Man Sentenced to Federal Prison for Covid Hoax.”
The New York Times: “Texas Man Is Sentenced to 15 Months for Online Covid-19 Hoax.”
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