A San Antonio man was sentenced on Monday to 15 months in prison for claiming on social media that he paid someone with Covid-19 to go to area grocery stores and lick products. He perpetrated a hoax related to Covid-19 in April 2020.
A federal jury found Christopher Charles Perez, 40, guilty on two counts criminalizing false information and hoaxes related to biological weapons, according to a Department of Justice news release.
Messages on FB were Meant to Deter People from Shopping
Evidence presented during trial revealed that Perez posted two threatening messages on Facebook in which he claimed to have paid someone who was infected with Covid-19 to lick items at grocery stores in the San Antonio area to scare people away from visiting the stores.
On April 5, 2020, a screenshot of the initial posting was sent by an online tip to the Southwest Texas Fusion Center (SWTFC), which then contacted the FBI office in San Antonio for further investigation. The threat was false. Perez did not pay someone to intentionally spread coronavirus at grocery stores, according to investigators and Perez's own admissions.
"My homeboys cousin has covid19 and has licked every thing for past 2 days cause we paid him too [sic]. Big difference is we told him not to be these f------ idiots who record and post online. . .YOU'VE BEEN WARNED!!!." Perez posted on Facebook according to court documents viewed by NBC News.
No Joking Matter
"Trying to scare people with the threat of spreading dangerous diseases is no joking matter," said U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff. "This office takes seriously threats to harm the community and will prosecute them to the full extent of the law."
"Those who would threaten to use Covid-19 as a weapon against others will be held accountable for their actions, even if the threat was a hoax," said FBI San Antonio Division Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs.
"Perez's actions were knowingly designed to spread fear and panic and today's sentencing illustrates the seriousness of this crime," he said.
Perez was sentenced to 15 months in prison, three years of supervised release that requires him to seek mental health treatment and medication, and fined $1,000.
Social Media Reactions
One internet user wrote, "No matter what his excuse was, he deserved the consequences." Another said, "This is extreme but spreading mass panic and doing gross stuff isn't ok either."
One comment read, "Only 15 months? Too little for the damage that can be done... someone can be left with lifetime effects from the effect of Covid." Another comment read, "Now prosecute all those pushing ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, and are spreading antivax lies."
"Bravo. What a great use of public resources. Now taxpayers have to give him room and board for 15 months. Well done, Feds. Way to neutralize those huge threats," shared one user.