A Texas man has been sentenced to 15 months in jail for making false claims about Covid-19 on Facebook.
The Justice Department announced that Christopher Charles Perez, 40, was found guilty on two counts this week for disseminating false information and hoaxes relating to biological weapons.
Federal prosecutors said in the post to Facebook in April 2020, Mr Perez wrote he had paid someone who was infected with the Covid-19 to lick items at a H.E.B supermarket in San Antonio.
'You've been warned'
"My homeboy's cousin has Covid19 and has licked everything for past two days cause we paid him too," Mr Perez wrote. "YOU’VE BEEN WARNED."
The post was deleted after 16 minutes, but a screenshot of the post was taken during that time and sent to a network of law enforcement agencies called the Southwest Texas Fusion Center (SWTFC), who contacted the FBI in San Antonio.
A statement from the Department of Justice said evidence presented during the trial revealed Mr Perez posted two threatening Facebook posts under the name “Christopher Robbins” using Covid-19 as a threat.
"The threat was false. Perez did not pay someone to intentionally spread coronavirus at grocery stores, according to investigators and Perez’s own admissions," the statement said.
Mr Perez was also fined $1,000 fine (approximately A$1350) in addition to his jail sentence.
Using Covid as a threat is a 'serious matter'
When interviewed by the FBI, Perez admitted he was “Christopher Robbins” and had posted threats online.
According to court documents, he told the FBI, he said he was trying to scare people away from shopping during the pandemic.
It was noted at the time of posting it was towards the start of the initial outbreak and there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the virus, making it easier for misinformation to spread.
US attorney Ashley Hoff said trying to scare people by threatening to infect them with Covid-19 is "no joking matter".
“This office takes seriously threats to harm the community and will prosecute them to the full extent of the law," she said.
“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 the 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.”
A Covid-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force was developed in May 2021 by the Attorney General in an effort to prevent pandemic-related fraud, including the spread of false information on social media.
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