A U.S. Marine Corps Reservist from Little Neck, who was arrested in October and charged with taking part in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot in Washington, D.C., was arrested Thursday by federal agents and charged in a separate case for allegedly conspiring to sell hundreds of counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination cards to his fellow reservists, according to federal prosecutors.
An indictment was unsealed in Brooklyn charging Jia Liu, 26, and Steven Rodriguez, a fellow reservist from Long Island, with conspiring to commit forgery in connection with their scheme to distribute and sell phony vax cards. Liu was additionally charged with conspiring to defraud the Department of Defense for providing the card to fellow reservists.
“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 1 million lives in this country,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said. “This office remains committed to rooting out and prosecuting those individuals who threaten our public health and safety for profit.”
The indictment alleges that from at least March 2021 to February 2022, Liu and Rodriguez conspired to steal and forge COVID-19 vaccination cards to falsely record persons as immunized with vaccines that protect against COVID-19, when in reality, they had not been immunized. In addition to selling stolen and false cards to unvaccinated persons, Liu and Rodriguez also conspired to enter false COVID-19 vaccination records into New York state databases, allowing unvaccinated individuals to receive the Excelsior Pass, which displays a user’s vaccination status in a digital app.
According to court documents, Lin purchased blank COVID-19 vaccination cards from Rodriguez, and then forged and distributed them to buyers and other co-conspirators for a profit. Liu also directed buyers to meet Rodriguez in person at the healthcare clinic to purchase fraudulent cards. Rodriguez would meet the buyer, but instead of administering the vaccine, he destroyed a vial of a vaccine intended to be used on a patient.
He then provided a forged COVID-19 vaccination card to the buyer, making it falsely appear that the buyer had received a dose of the vaccine. He further made entries in the immunization databases falsely indicating that the buyer had been vaccinated.
After the U.S. Department of Defense imposed a requirement that all active and reserve military service members be vaccinated against COVID-19, from August 2021 to January 2022, Liu created and distributed false COVID-19 vaccination cards to United States Marine Corps reservists to help them evade vaccination requirements.
The defendants promoted their scheme through messages on encrypted messaging applications and on social media. They referred to COVID-19 vaccination cards using code names, such as “gift cards,” “Cardi Bs,” “Christmas cards” and “Pokemon cards.” The defendants distributed at least 300 stolen or false COVID-19 vaccination cards and created more than 70 false entries in the immunization databases.
“The COVID-19 vaccination card fraud scheme allegedly perpetrated by Liu and Rodriguez resulted in more than 300 stolen or false vaccination cards circulating throughout the community, and in the destruction of multiple doses of a vaccine intended to protect people from the most severe effects of the virus,” FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll said. “Schemers who defraud the government in any way — and profit from pocketing the funds— will continue to be held accountable.”
If convicted, Liu and Rodriguez face up to 10 years in prison.