Nursing Director Pleads Guilty to Lying to Federal Agents Regarding Production of Fraudulent COVID-19 Vaccine Cards
Case Marks First Conviction in District of South Carolina Related to Fraudulent Vaccine Cards
COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA —Tammy Hutson McDonald, 53, of Columbia, has pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about the production of fraudulent COVID-19 Vaccination Record Cards.
Evidence obtained in the investigation revealed that on September 13, 2021, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control received a complaint that McDonald, who was then director of nursing at a PruittHealth skilled nursing facility, was providing false COVID-19 vaccine cards to others.
Further investigation revealed that on June 20, 2021, McDonald provided vaccination cards for various individuals. McDonald filled out the cards and was aware that the individuals to whom she provided vaccine cards did not, in fact, receive the vaccine as noted on the cards. One of the individuals who procured a card needed a replacement. On July 28, 2021, McDonald filled out another card for him although she was aware that he had not received the vaccine as noted on his card.
On October 22, 2021, federal agents with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) spoke to McDonald at work. Even after being told she was talking to federal agents, and that lying to a federal agent was a crime, she insisted she had never given anyone a false or incorrect vaccine card. Evidence presented to the Court showed that this was a materially false statement, and McDonald knew the statement was false, as she provided fraudulent COVID-19 vaccine cards to others.
“The Defendant created a direct risk to the people of South Carolina by creating false vaccine documents for others to use, and she compounded this wrongdoing by lying to federal agents,” said U.S. Attorney Corey F. Ellis. “As a registered nurse, she knew better and owed more to her community. This felony conviction showcases that this office will continue to prosecute fraud related to the Coronavirus in all its forms.”
"Vaccination record cards play an integral part in efforts to address the public health emergency," said Special Agent in Charge Tamala E. Miles, with HHS-OIG. "HHS-OIG will continue to hold accountable any providers who undermine public health measures and put the health of others at risk by distributing these cards to unvaccinated individuals."
“COVID-19 related fraud has severe consequences, no matter the chosen scheme,” said Susan Ferensic, the FBI Columbia field office’s Special Agent in Charge. “Our investigators will continue to work diligently to turn over every stone in search of the truth, and we will hold individuals accountable for their crimes.”
McDonald faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. She also faces a fine of up to $250,000, restitution, and three years of supervision to follow any term of imprisonment. Senior United States District Judge Terry L. Wooten accepted the guilty plea and will sentence McDonald on September 20, 2022, after receiving and reviewing a sentencing report prepared by the United States Probation Office.
On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
This case was investigated by Special Agent Ryan Schubert with HHS-OIG and the FBI, with assistance from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED). Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek A. Shoemake, who also serves as the District’s Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator, is prosecuting the case.