Now that we’re seeing more and more businesses asking for patron’s vaccine status when they walk through the door, forged vaccine cards are quickly becoming a hot commodity among folks that are either unable or unwilling to get the real deal. And now, the Justice Department is taking notice. On Tuesday, the agency announced the arrest of one Chicago pharmacist on charges surrounding his alleged side hustle selling off COVID-19 vaccination cards.
Per the DOJ’s announcement, the pharmacist in question —34-year-old Tangtang Zhao, of Chicago—was caught after he had sold 125 authentic CDC vaccination cards at roughly $10 a pop using his eBay account. Details in Zhao’s indictment show that those cards were doled out between 11 different buyers, with one spending more than $175 in a single purchase. The bulk of these buys happened between March and April of this year, around the same time that the FBI put out a public memo letting people know that producing these cards was a crime.
The indictment charges Zhao with 12 counts of theft of government property from the pharmacy where he was working, which isn’t directly named in the documents but seems to be Walgreens, according to public records. Per the announcement, he faces a sentence of 10 years in prison for each of those counts if convicted, meaning that he could wind up serving a whopping 120-year prison sentence as a result.
“Stealing and selling COVID-19 vaccination cards is inexcusable and will not be tolerated,” said Special Agent in Lamont Pugh III of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services in a statement
“Fraudsters who engage in such unlawful conduct undermine efforts to address the pandemic and profit at the public’s expense,” he went on. “The health and safety of the public is our top priority, and we encourage people to obtain vaccination cards from their administering medical providers.”
This case marks the second time that the DOJ has intervened in the black market for bogus vaccine cards. Last month, the department arrested a California-based homeopathic doctor over claims that she was selling phony vaccination cards and “immunization pellets” to her clientele.
Between all the free perks being doled out across the country to encourage people to get the jab, and the quickly mounting court cases facing those who have tried circumventing the system, hopefully, more people will be convinced to get their cards for free, the way authorities intended. Zhao will make his first appearance in court on Tuesday.