Pharmacist faces up to 120 years in prison for selling real vaccination cards online

Pharmacist faces up to 120 years in prison for selling real vaccination cards online

Selling fake IDs seems to be a thing of the past. Now, some Americans are instead selling fake vaccine cards. Months after the first case of an American prosecuted for selling counterfeit vaccine cards comes a similar (yet different) case. Instead of selling fake cards, an Illinois man decided to sell real ones—and for cheap. A pharmacist has been arrested and charged with selling authentic Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 vaccination cards on eBay, federal prosecutors said Tuesday, according to WTTW News.

According to a statement from the Justice Department, 34-year-old Tangtang Zhao, a Chicago-based pharmacist, sold at least 125 authentic CDC vaccination cards. He had access to them through his job and sold them for approximately $10 per card between March 25 to April 11. He now faces up to 120 years in prison for illegal sales because each transaction Zhao completed counts as one count of theft of government property punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.

While federal agents did not identify which pharmacy Zhao worked for, an online profile obtained by WTTW News found that Zhao was a pharmacist for Walgreens in South Chicago. He appeared in court Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheila M. Finnegan of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

“Knowingly selling COVID vaccination cards to unvaccinated individuals puts millions of Americans at risk of serious injury or death,” Emmerson Buie Jr. of the FBI’s Chicago Field Office said. “To put such a small price on the safety of our nation is not only an insult to those who are doing their part in the fight to stop COVID-19, but a federal crime with serious consequences.”

Zhao’s arrest is the latest in a series of arrests related to fake, forged, or illicitly obtained COVID-19 vaccination cards. Earlier this month, two travelers were arrested after using fake vaccination documents to enter Canada from the U.S., in the first case of traveling with fake vaccination cards and COVID-19 test results. Additionally, last week U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized a shipment from China with more than 3,000 counterfeit vaccine cards.

Concerns over fake vaccine cards are increasing as some cities across the country implement proof of vaccination for indoor activities like dining at restaurants and going to bars. On Monday, New Orleans became the first U.S. city to enforce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public indoor activities; New York City followed by enacting a similar vaccine mandate on Tuesday. A vaccine mandate will also take effect in San Francisco on Friday.

As the demand for proof of cards increases, those who refuse to get vaccinated are looking into fake cards.

Of course, instead of acknowledging the risks posed by fake vaccination cards and the spread of COVID-19 that follows, some people (like Fox News’s Brian Kilmeade) make ignorant comparisons and promote this trend of obtaining fake vaccine cards. It comes as no surprise, though, given Fox News’ constant downplaying of the virus since the start of the pandemic.

Brian Kilmeade compares unvaccinated New Yorkers who can’t go to a bar to Americans forced to hide in place in Afghanistan Kilmeade: Unvaccinated NYers “have to shelter in place now like an American in Afghanistan” (He also promoted fake vaccination cards)

— Lis Power (@LisPower1) August 18, 2021

The FBI issued a warning regarding fake vaccination cards earlier this year, noting that not only does it increase the risk of COVID-19 but it is illegal to both buy or sell the fraudulent cards, which could be charged as forgery. 

“Stealing and selling COVID-19 vaccination cards is inexcusable and will not be tolerated.” Lamont Pugh III, special agent in charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said, according to CBS News. “Fraudsters who engage in such unlawful conduct undermine efforts to address the pandemic and profit at the public’s expense,” Pugh added. “The health and safety of the public is our top priority, and we encourage people to obtain vaccination cards from their administering medical providers.”

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