The Justice Department has turned to biological warfare laws to bring two new cases against alleged coronavirus hoaxsters this week.
In San Antonio, federal prosecutors charged a 39-year-old man for claiming online he paid a person to spread the virus at grocery stores. And in St Petersburg, Florida, a 31-year-old man allegedly coughed and spit on police as they searched him during two domestic violence-related arrests.
Taken together, the charges are notable new prosecutions in the Justice Department’s effort to fight coronavirus-related fraud and other issues. In other coronavirus criminal cases, police have used assault charges for people who spit on them and claimed to have the virus. And many of the federal cases to this point had been focused on scammers, price gouging and hoarding medical gear and other goods in short supply.
But the biological warfare cases targeted both an online troll and an unruly person during an arrest.
In the Texas case, a weapons of mass destruction investigator got a tip about a deleted Facebook post claiming Christopher Charles Perez’s Covid-19-positive cousin had licked items in a grocery store.
When investigators contacted Perez, he told them neither he nor his family members were sick, but he “thought it was stupid for people to be out shopping” and wanted to scare others away from stores, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.
“Perez did not intend to cause a mass panic, but prevent the spread of coronavirus,” the affidavit said. “When asked if he was happy a grocery store closed as a result of his threat, Perez stated he was ’50/50.’”
The grocery store hadn’t actually closed, the affidavit added. Perez was charged on April 5 for a hoax involving a biological agent.
In the Florida case, police had visited James Jamal Curry at an apartment after his girlfriend had alerted a friend about him being violent toward her, according to the criminal complaint filed in federal court. When police first visited him, Curry told an officer, “Well I got the Corona,” the complaint said, before coughing on the police officer’s arm. He was initially charged with felony domestic battery and false imprisonment.
Curry spent the night in jail, but posted bond the next day and returned to his girlfriend’s apartment, the complaint said. When police arrived again, he resisted, banging his head against a police cruiser’s backseat window, then spit on an officer as his fight with the police escalated.
“As Sergeant P.M. cleaned the saliva off her face, Curry continued to resist officers and strike his head against the window,” the complaint said. Curry struggled against the cops, until they covered him with what’s called a “spit hood” and pinned him to the ground. “I have Corona, bitch, and I’m spreading it around,” he told them, the complaint said.
The complaint noted Curry had no symptoms of the virus and a test for it came back negative. Law enforcement are calling his crime a “biological weapons hoax,” according to court documents.
The penalty for the biological weapons hoaxes is up to five years in prison.