Contrary to popular conspiracy theories, COVID-19 is not a hoax, and definitely isn't something to joke about.

According to a press release from the United States Department of Justice, Christopher Charles Perez of San Antonio was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for "perpetrating a hoax related to COVID-19."

In the Beginning

March 2020 was the first time many of us were faced with the reality of COVID-19. A year and a half later, we're much more informed than we were initially, but we're still learning.

During those first few months, many of us were on high alert. We know that COVID can be fatal, and many of us take that very seriously. Unfortunately, there are others who think everything is all "fun and games," like Mr. Perez.

The Hoax

In April 2020, 40-year-old 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.

Yes, seriously.

Like the Blue Bell licking phase wasn't enough to deal with previously.

The Truth

On April 5, 2020, a screenshot of the posts 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.

In reality, Perez never hired anyone infected with COVID-19 to lick items at grocery stores.

Unfortunately for Perez, the damage had already been done.

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

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Watch Your Words

On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud.

Don't be like Mr. Perez and create COVID-19 hoaxes, or you could be looking at the same fate. In addition to serving 15 months in federal prison, Perez was also hit with a $1,000 fine.

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