COVID-19 shut down our world for nearly two years, but it opened a world of opportunity for fraudsters of all kinds. While vaccines were becoming required for active and reserve military members and for citizens attending activities like concerts and sporting events (because metal detectors don’t protect against a virus), Jia Liu, a 26-year-old U.S. Marine Corps reservist of Queens, NY, and Steven Rodriguez, a 27-year-old clinic nurse in Hempstead, N.Y., began seeking the opportunity to make a profit by selling stolen and false vaccination cards to the unvaccinated, including Liu’s fellow Marine Corp reservists.
From the time vaccines became more prevalent in March 2021 through February 2022, Liu and Rodriguez sold more than 300 stolen or false vaccination cards. Using encrypted messaging apps and social media, Liu and Rodriguez promoted their scheme using code names, such as “gift cards,” “Cardi Bs,” and “Pokémon Cards.” (There were as many fraudster codes as there were COVID variants.)
Liu purchased blank cards from Rodriguez or directed buyers to meet Rodriguez at a healthcare clinic where he would destroy a vial of vaccine rather than administer it to the person. Rodriguez would then enter false COVID-19 vax records into New York state databases so that unvaccinated individuals could receive the Excelsior Pass, a digital app displaying vax status.
Both fraudsters were indicted for conspiring to defraud the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and conspiring to commit forgery. Liu also faces the charge of conspiring to defraud the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). They face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. (The punishment for this crime will definitely be more painful than a COVID shot in the arm. Was becoming a fraudster really worth it?)
Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from a press release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office – Eastern District Court of New York, “Queens Marine Corps Reservist and Long Island Nurse Indicted for COVID-19 Vaccination Card Fraud Scheme,” dated February 17, 2022.
An indictment was unsealed today in federal court in Brooklyn charging Jia Liu, a member of the United States Marine Corps Reserve, and Steven Rodriguez, a nurse at a clinic in Hempstead, New York, with one count of conspiring to defraud the United States Department of Health and Human Services and one count of conspiring to commit forgery in connection with their scheme to distribute and sell false COVID-19 Vaccination Cards. Liu, a Marine Corps reservist, is additionally charged with one count of conspiring to defraud the United States Department of Defense for providing these cards to United States Marine Corps reservists. The defendants were arrested this morning and will make their initial appearance this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Sanket J. Bulsara.
Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), announced the arrest and charges.