Feb. 22, 2022 by Allie Griffin
A Little Neck man and Marine Corps reservist — who was charged in the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot — allegedly peddled hundreds of fake COVID-19 vaccination cards to unvaccinated New Yorkers, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.
Jia Liu, 26, along with Long Island nurse Steven Rodriguez, 27, allegedly ran a fake vax card scheme in which they stole blank vaccination cards, forged them and then sold the fraudulent cards to unvaccinated individuals for a profit, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
The pair allegedly sold at least 300 bogus vaccine cards during their scheme running from March 2021 up until this month, prosecutors said.
They also allegedly entered more than 70 false COVID-19 vaccination records into New York state databases. The fraudulent records allowed their unvaccinated customers to access the state’s Excelsior Pass app, providing them with the ability to falsely show their employers and businesses—such as restaurants—that they had been vaccinated.
Liu and Rodriguez were arrested Thursday and charged with one count each of conspiring to defraud the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and one count each of conspiring to commit forgery.
The Little Neck resident was additionally charged with one count of conspiring to defraud the U.S. Department of Defense for selling the fake cards to other U.S. Marine Corps reservists who were required to be vaccinated against the virus.
“As alleged, by deliberately distributing fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards to the unvaccinated, the defendants put military and other communities at risk of contracting a virus that has already claimed nearly one million lives in this country,” United States Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement.
As part of the scheme, Liu allegedly purchased blank COVID-19 vaccination cards from Rodriguez — a nurse, who took them from his workplace — and then forged and sold them to unvaccinated buyers and co-conspirators for a profit.
He also instructed his customers to schedule a vaccine appointment with Rodriguez at the clinic.
As such, Rodriguez would meet the customers at the clinic but instead of giving them the shot, he allegedly destroyed the vaccine vial meant for them and forged a vaccine card stating that the customer had received a dose. He also made entries in immunization databases falsely stating that the customer had been vaccinated against COVID-19, prosecutors said.
Both men advertised their scheme through messages on social media and on encrypted messaging apps. They called the bogus vaccination cards code names like “Cardi Bs”, “Pokemon cards”, “gift cards” and “Christmas cards”, according to court documents.
The fake cards and records allowed Liu and Rodriguez’s customers to evade vaccine requirements necessary to keep their jobs or enter certain businesses like New York City restaurants.
Liu was already facing charges for his involvement in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, when he was arrested Thursday. He was charged with four misdemeanors after security footage caught him storming the Capitol building.
Liu and Rodriguez each face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.