A Texas man who posted a COVID-19 hoax on social media in the weeks after the pandemic was declared will spend the next 15 months in federal prison. FBI agents in San Antonio launched an investigation in April 2020 after authorities were sent a screenshot of a Facebook post in which Christopher Perez "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," according to the US Attorney's Office for Texas' Western District.
Perez wrote that a friend's cousin was infected with COVID-19 and had "licked every thing for past 2 days cause we paid him to," per the Charlotte Observer. "YOU'VE BEEN WARNED." When a news outlet later reported that a store employee had tested positive for COVID-19, he reportedly commented on the station's post, "I did try to warn y'all." There were reports of similar behavior around that time. But the 40-year-old hadn't actually done as he said. "The threat was false," prosecutors wrote. Perez allegedly told investigators that he only wanted to keep people from visiting stores to prevent further spread of the virus, per the Observer.
But FBI San Antonio Division Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs says "Perez's actions were knowingly designed to spread fear and panic." "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," he adds. A jury found Perez guilty of two counts of violating a federal law that criminalizes false information and hoaxes related to biological weapons in June. He faced up to five years in federal prison for each count before his sentencing on Monday. He was ordered to serve 15 months in prison and must also pay a $1,000 fine, per CNN. (Read more COVID-19 stories.)