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Texas Man Charged for Perpetrating a Coronavirus-Related ‘Hoax’ on Facebook: DOJ

The Department of Justice is seemingly doing all it can to deter people from falsely claiming that they have the coronavirus and intend on spreading it to others, even if that means federally prosecuting them for empty threats they make on Facebook.

According the DOJ, San Antonio-area man Christopher Charles Perez, 39, is in federal custody after he allegedly perpetrated a “COVID-19-related hoax.”

Perez is accused of claiming on Facebook that he paid a person to spread coronavirus at grocery stores … in order to prevent the spread of the virus. Seriously.

Per the press release:

Perez allegedly posted a threat on Facebook in which he claimed to have paid someone to spread coronavirus at grocery stores in the San Antonio area because he was trying to deter people from visiting the stores, purportedly in order to prevent the spread of the virus. A screenshot of that posted threat was sent by an online tip to the Southwest Texas Fusion Center (SWTFC) on Sunday. The SWTFC contacted the FBI office in San Antonio for further investigation. To be clear, the alleged threat was false; no one spread coronavirus at grocery stores, according to investigators.

Perez was charged with a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. § 1038:

(a) Criminal Violation.—
(1) In general.—Whoever engages in any conduct with intent to convey false or misleading information under circumstances where such information may reasonably be believed and where such information indicates that an activity has taken, is taking, or will take place that would constitute a violation of chapter 2, 10, 11B, 39, 40, 44, 111, or 113B of this title, section 236 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (42 U.S.C. 2284), or section 46502, the second sentence of section 46504, section 46505(b)(3) or (c), section 46506 if homicide or attempted homicide is involved, or section 60123(b) of title 49, shall—
(A) be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both;
(B) if serious bodily injury results, be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both; and
(C) if death results, be fined under this title or imprisoned for any number of years up to life, or both.

In short, the statute “criminalizes false information and hoaxes related to weapons of mass destruction.”

The threat was not a serious one and no bodily injury or death occurred, but Perez still faces up to five years behind bars if convicted. The defendant was arrested on Tuesday. SBG San Antonio reported on Tuesday that there was law enforcement activity at a home on San Antonio’s East Side. Images showed masked FBI agents outside of the residence.

Earlier on Wednesday, the DOJ announced charges against 31-year-old James Jamal Curry, accusing him of perpetrating a biological weapons hoax by spitting in a police officer’s face and falsely claiming to have contracted the Coronavirus.

Curry was also charged under 18 U.S.C. § 1038. A DOJ crackdown on such “hoaxes” appears to be in full swing.

[Image via Scott Olson/Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is managing editor of Law&Crime. He formerly worked as news editor and weekend editor at Rare.