Agents from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) arrested a bar owner in the San Joaquin Valley for allegedly selling fake COVID vaccination cards.
According to San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar, ABC launched an investigation into a bar in Clements, California, that was allegedly selling fake vaccination cards. Four undercover agents went to the Old Corner Saloon on multiple occasions throughout the month of April, where they successfully purchased the fake COVID vaccination cards that were laminated.
When undercover agents visited the establishment, they paid $20 each and were told “to write their names and birthdays on Post-it notes and then watched as employees cut the cards, filled in the identifying information and bogus vaccination dates and laminated the finished products,” The Associated Press reported.
“On the back where they put the two dates when you were vaccinated, they used two different color pens to make it look like it was two different times,” supervising agent Luke Blehm told the Modesto Bee. “So they went to some effort to make it look authentic.”
Undercover agents claim they saw “at least eight others” buying the fraudulent vaccine card. ABC, however, has yet to determine precisely how many the bar owner sold.
“It is disheartening to have members in our community show flagrant disregard for public health in the midst of a pandemic. Distributing, falsifying or purchasing fake COVID-19 vaccine cards is against the law and endangers yourself and those around you,” Salazar said in a statement. “The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office is grateful for the partnership with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office for their work in this case.”
Authorities arrested the bar owner, 59-year-old Todd Anderson, last week. As authorities executed the search warrant, they uncovered 30 blank COVID vaccination cards, as well as a lamination machine. Both were confiscated. Police also discovered a loaded unregistered firearm, which violates California handgun laws.
Because this is such a new phenomenon, authorities didn’t have a precedent to follow.
“This is such a new case. We looked for some other guidance from other cases around the country and we haven’t been able to find one like this at all,” Blehm told the Bee.
Fake COVID vaccination cards are becoming increasingly popular, especially as states, local municipalities, and businesses require vaccine passports. The FBI issued a warning about the fraudulent cards earlier this year.
“Vaccination record cards are intended to provide recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine with information about the type of vaccine they received, and when they may be able to receive a second dose of the vaccine. If you did not receive the vaccine, do not buy fake vaccine cards, do not make your own vaccine cards, and do not fill-in blank vaccination record cards with false information,” the FBI announcement stated. “By misrepresenting yourself as vaccinated when entering schools, mass transit, workplaces, gyms, or places of worship, you put yourself and others around you at risk of contracting COVID-19.”
According to the FBI, using an official government agency seal, like the ones found on the vaccine card, is a federal crime.
Anderson faces felony charges of identity theft, forging government documents, falsifying medical records, and having a loaded unregistered firearm. Each of the charges, with the exception of falsifying medical records, according to The New York Times, have “a maximum penalty of three years in prison.” The falsifying medical records charge is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail.
Editor’s Note: The title of this piece was altered after publication for clarity.
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