Marine Corps Reservist, Nurse Charged With Running Fake Vaccine Card Scam
NEW YORK (AP) — A Marine Corps reservist who was charged in last year’s riot at the U.S. Capitol also schemed with a nurse to steal, forge and sell hundreds of coronavirus vaccination cards and destroy vaccine doses to fake inoculations, federal authorities said Thursday.
Reservist Jia Liu, 26, and nurse Steven Rodriguez, 27, were awaiting a court appearance Thursday on charges of conspiring to commit forgery and to defraud the federal government.
“By deliberately distributing fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards to the unvaccinated, the defendants put military and other communities at risk of contracting a virus that has already claimed nearly 1 million lives in this country,” Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement.
Liu’s lawyer, Benjamin Yaster, declined to comment. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Rodriguez had an attorney who could speak to the allegations.
According to an indictment, Rodriguez, who worked at a clinic on Long Island, pilfered blank COVID-19 vaccination cards.
He and Liu allegedly offered customers the choice of buying cards blank or fraudulently filled out, with a premium-priced option: a fake vaccination record in New York state and city databases that are used to issue vaccine passes.
A buyer who sprung for the add-on would go to the clinic, where Rodriguez would dispose of a dose of vaccine, forge a card and make a phony entry into the databases, the indictment said.
“I need to make an appointment for you with my buddy who will destroy a vial, scan your ID and give you a Band-Aid,” Liu told one contact in a message last May, the indictment said.
The scheme ultimately involved over 300 ill-gotten vaccination cards and over 70 fake database entries, according to prosecutors.
Covering their tracks by referring to “gift cards,” “Cardi Bs,” “Christmas cards” and “Pokemon cards,” Liu and Rodriguez conducted the scam through encrypted messaging apps and social media and instructed buyers to mask online payments as “consultancy” or “Korean BBQ,” the indictment said.
It said some of the fake cards went to Liu’s fellow Marine reservists, following a Pentagon order in August that all members of the military be vaccinated.
An inquiry was sent to the Marine Corps about the allegations and Liu’s status.
Separately, Liu was charged this past fall with climbing through a broken window into the Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection that delayed Congress’ certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Security cameras recorded Liu entering the building, according to a criminal complaint.
In that case, he has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges including entering a restricted building and disorderly conduct.
The charges in the vaccination card case carry the potential for up to 10 years in prison for Liu, of Queens, and Rodriguez, of suburban Long Beach.