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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, February 17, 2022

Queens Marine Corps Reservist and Long Island Nurse Indicted for COVID-19 Vaccination Card Fraud Scheme

The Defendants Allegedly Stole, Forged and Distributed Hundreds of Fraudulent COVID-19 Vaccination Cards

An indictment was unsealed today in federal court in Brooklyn charging Jia Liu, a member of the United States Marine Corps Reserve, and Steven Rodriguez, a nurse at a clinic in Hempstead, New York, with one count of conspiring to defraud the United States Department of Health and Human Services and one count of conspiring to commit forgery in connection with their scheme to distribute and sell false COVID-19 Vaccination Cards.  Liu, a Marine Corps reservist, is additionally charged with one count of conspiring to defraud the United States Department of Defense for providing these cards to United States Marine Corps reservists.  The defendants were arrested this morning and will make their initial appearance this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Sanket J. Bulsara.

Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), announced the arrest and charges.

“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,” stated United States Attorney Peace.  “This Office remains committed to rooting out and prosecuting those individuals who threaten our public health and safety for profit.”

“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. Schemers who defraud the government in any way—and profit from pocketing the funds—will continue to be held accountable,” stated FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Driscoll.

The indictment alleges that from at least March 2021 to February 2022, the defendants 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, Liu 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 vaccine intended to be used to vaccinate a patient. He then provided a forged COVID-19 Vaccination Card to the buyer that he completed to make it falsely appear that the buyer had received a dose of 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.

All COVID-19 vaccination providers are required to give individuals who receive a COVID-19 vaccine a COVID-19 Vaccination Card. These COVID-19 Vaccination Cards list the name and date of birth of the patient, name of the manufacturer of the COVID-19 vaccine that the patient received, the date the patient receives it, the lot number of the vaccine dose, and the location where each dose is administered.

Proof of vaccination, as reflected in a COVID-19 Vaccination Card or Excelsior Pass, is required to travel to certain locations and attend certain events where large numbers of people congregate, such as sporting events, concerts, restaurants, and bars. In addition, some employers and government agencies require employees to have received a COVID-19 vaccination. Proof of vaccination requirements are intended to limit the spread of COVID-19 and maximize the safety of the community.  In April 2021, the State of New York established the Excelsior Pass. Using patient data recorded in Immunization Databases, an Excelsior Pass stores and displays a user’s vaccination status in a digital app. The pass is intended to be shown at participating businesses and venues as proof of vaccination.

The charges in the indictment are allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.  If convicted, the defendants face up to 10 years in prison.

The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s General Crimes Section.  Assistant United States Attorney Adam Amir is in charge of the prosecution.

The Defendants:

JIA LIU
Age:  26         
Queens, New York

STEVEN RODRIGUEZ
Age:  27
Long Beach, New York

E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 22-CR-70 (DG)

Topic(s): 
Coronavirus
Contact: 
John Marzulli United States Attorney’s Office (718) 254-6323
Updated February 17, 2022