Texas man sentenced to 15 months in jail for COVID hoax

A federal judge has sentenced a Texas man to 15 months in prison for perpetrating a hoax about COVID-19 last year.

Why it matters: The sentence comes as the government navigates new challenges related to pandemic fraud, including online misinformation and falsified vaccine documentation.

The big picture: Christopher Charles Perez made false claims in an April 5, 2020, Facebook post about a grocery store in San Antonio, federal prosecutors say.

“My homeboys cousin has covid19 and has licked everything for past two days cause we paid him too,” Perez wrote. “YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.”Though the post was taken down after 16 minutes, someone anonymously submitted a screenshot of Perez’s words to a network of law enforcement agencies called the Southwest Texas Fusion Center.

Of note: Perez later told the FBI that he had been trying to frighten people into avoiding public places “to stop them from spreading the virus,” according to a federal affidavit.

He was found guilty of disseminating false information and hoaxes related to biological weapons in June.

What they’re saying: “Perez’s actions were knowingly designed to spread fear and panic and today’s sentencing illustrates the seriousness of this crime,” FBI San Antonio division special agent in charge Christopher Combs said in a statement.

“Trying to scare people with the threat of spreading dangerous diseases is no joking matter,” U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff added. “This office takes seriously threats to harm the community and will prosecute them to the full extent of the law.”Perez’s lawyer has filed a notice with the court stating intent to pursue an appeal of Perez’s conviction.

For the record: The U.S. attorney general established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force in May.

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