Texas man gets 15 months in prison for Facebook COVID hoax

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(NEXSTAR) – A man’s social media threats to spread COVID-19 at San Antonio-area grocery stores resulted in a 15-month prison sentence, prosecutors announced Monday.

A judge sentenced 40-year-old Christopher Charles Perez after he was found guilty in June of disseminating false information and hoaxes related to biological weapons, according to a statement from the Department of Justice.

“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.”

In April 2020, Perez posted twice on Facebook saying he paid someone sick with COVID-19 to contaminate store items. Court documents cited by NBC News say he wrote:

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!!!

The FBI started investigating after someone sent a screenshot of one of the Facebook posts to the Southwest Texas Fusion Center, which turned the post over to the San Antonio FBI office.

Investigators found that Perez, who now also faces a $1,000 fine, was lying about the threats.

“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. The FBI would like to thank our law enforcement partners for their help in this case.”

Perez’s lawyer, Alfredo R. Villareal, told The New York Times he would appeal the ruling and said in a June 17 motion that his client “either meant it purely as a joke or, at worst, intended that people take the pandemic more seriously at a time when public gatherings and mask hesitancy were continuing to frustrate public health officials.”

A judge denied the motion and a jury found him guilty June 21.

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