A New York man already facing charges for storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 returned to federal court today for a completely different — albeit arguably unsurprising — indictment: An alleged scheme to distribute and sell fake Covid-19 vaccine cards.
Jia Liu, a Marine Corps reservist, and Steven Rodriguez, a nurse at a clinic in Hempstead, New York, were each charged with one count of conspiring to defraud the Department of Heath and Human Services and another count of conspiring to commit forgery in relation to the alleged scheme. Liu was also charged with one count of conspiring to defraud the Department of Defense for allegedly providing the fake vax cards to other Marine Corps reservists.
In total, the two are accused of distributing at least 300 stolen or false vaccine cards and creating over 70 false entries in immunization databases.
Both Liu and Rodriguez were arrested Thursday, Feb. 17, and appeared in federal court. A lawyer for Liu, who is representing him in his case related to the Capitol riot, declined to comment. A lawyer for Rodriguez hasn’t been determined yet. If convicted, Liu and Rodriguez face up to 10 years in prison.
Breon Peace, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement, “As alleged, 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 one million lives in this country. This Office remains committed to rooting out and prosecuting those individuals who threaten our public health and safety for profit.”
Michael Driscoll, the FBI special agent-in-charge in the case, added, “The COVID-19 vaccination card fraud 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. Schemers who defraud the government in any way — and profit from pocketing the funds — will continue to be held accountable.”
Per the indictment, Liu and Rodriguez ran their scheme from at least March 2021 through this month, allegedly conspiring to steal, forge and sell vax cards to those who hadn’t actually been immunized. They were also accused of entering false Covid-19 vaccination records into New York databases. And Liu is alleged to have provided fake vax cards to Marine Corps reservists to help them avoid the vaccine requirement for service members that went into effect last year.
As for the scheme itself, Liu would allegedly purchase blank Covid vaxx cards from Rodriguez, then flip them to buyers and co-conspirators for a profit. He also pointed interested parties to Rodriguez, who would allegedly give buyers a forged vaccine card that he’d filled out, enter their false information into immunization databases, and then — to top it all off — destroy the vaccine vial.
To promote the scheme, Liu and Rodriguez allegedly took to encrypted messaging apps and social media, using code words like “gift cards,” “Christmas cards, “Pokemon cards,” and — sigh — “Cardi Bs.”