A man who made an online hoax last year has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. The case was a joint effort between U.S. attorney's office of Western District of Texas and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Christopher Charles Perez was arrested in April 2020 after making Facebook posts where he claimed he paid someone infected with COVID-19 to "lick" items in grocery stores across San Antonio.
The threats were fake, but taken very seriously by the Department of Justice.
Perez claims he was doing this to deter people from visiting stores and prevent the spread of the disease.
The posts on Facebook read:
"My homeboys cousin has covid19 and has licked every thing for past 2 days cause we paid him to. Big difference is we told him not to be these [expletive] idiots who record and post online … YOU'VE BEEN WARNED."
Perez was charged with two counts of federal laws that involve using a biological weapon. In this case, threatening people with a disease counts as a biological weapon.
In addition to a 15-month sentence, Perez will be ordered to pay a $1000 fine. To some it may seem like overkill for a hoax.
But threatening people and spreading misinformation to cause panic is still dangerous.
The Justice Department wants the public to know they are taking threats of using the virus as a weapon very seriously.
U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff said in the release:
"Trying to scare people with the threat of spreading dangerous diseases is no joking matter. This office takes seriously threats to harm the community and will prosecute them to the full extent of the law."
Perez was caught after someone on Facebook forwarded the posts to the FBI. This led to a joint taskforce between the FBI and Justice Department personnel specializing in Weapons of Mass Destruction.
All of this because Perez thought it would be funny to threaten people with the virus.
Perez is hardly the only person to get in trouble for pandemic related hoax threats. Another person was arrested in Texas around the same time.
An 18-year-old woman was taken into custody after claiming on Snapchat that she was intentionally spreading the disease. She was charged with a making a terroristic threat.