A U.S. Marine Corps Reserve member sold and provided fake COVID-19 vaccine cards to other military members “to help them evade” the armed forces’ vaccine mandate, federal officials said.
He’s accused of working with a nurse to sell and give out at least 300 fake COVID-19 vaccine cards in total and making over 70 false entries in Immunization Databases, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. They were paid thousands of dollars for the sales, an indictment said.
Marine Corps reservist Jia Liu and nurse Steven Rodriguez have been indicted in the alleged vaccination card fraud scheme, the office said in a Feb. 17 news release. The pair are charged with conspiring to defraud the Department of Health and Human Services and conspiring to commit forgery.
Liu is also charged with conspiring to defraud the Department of Defense for giving the fake cards to other Marine Corps reservists, prosecutors said. Vaccination was required for all military members as of August 2021.
“As alleged … the defendants put military and other communities at risk of contracting a virus that has already claimed nearly one million lives in this country,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace, for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement.
Liu “facilitated the introduction of unvaccinated persons into a military setting that had been constructed to exclude unvaccinated persons for the safety of troops,” the indictment said.
Prior to this case, Liu was separately charged in the Jan. 6 Capitol breach, according to the Justice Department. Those charges against Liu included disorderly conduct in a Capitol building among others.
Liu’s lawyer declined a request for comment from McClatchy News, which also reached out to Rodriguez’s lawyer and was awaiting comment.
The “scheme allegedly perpetrated by Liu and Rodriguez resulted in more than 300 stolen or false vaccination cards circulating throughout the community, and in the destruction of multiple doses of a vaccine intended to protect people from the most severe effects of the virus,” Michael J. Driscoll, the FBI’s assistant director-in-charge for New York, said in a statement.
Rodriguez is separately accused of destroying vaccine doses “intended to be used to vaccinate a patient” for those who bought the fake cards from him and Liu to make it seem like they were administered, according to prosecutors.
The alleged plot, promoted through social media and on messaging apps, roughly began in March 2021 until February 2022, the release said.
“Genuine” vaccine cards were stolen by Rodriguez, who “abused his position as a healthcare professional during a global pandemic,” and then forged by Liu who bought them from the nurse, according to court documents.
They are accused of offering customers blank vaccine cards or ones filled out that “falsely listed” a buyer’s information, the indictment said.
“They referred to COVID-19 Vaccination Cards using code names, such as ‘gift cards,’ ‘Cardi Bs,’ ‘Christmas cards’ and ‘Pokemon cards,’” when promoting them, the release said.
“If convicted, the defendants face up to 10 years in prison,” it added.
Liu and Rodriguez appeared in court on Feb. 17, according to the attorney’s office.
Liu was released on a $250,000 bond and was put on home detention with GPS monitoring, spokesperson John Marzulli told McClatchy News.
Rodriguez was released on a $100,000 bond, Marzulli added.
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