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Texas Man Headed To Federal Prison For Posting COVID-19 'Licking' Hoax On Social Media

SAN ANTONIO (CBSDFW.COM/CNN) — A Texas man will spend more than a year in federal prison for spreading a hoax related to COVID-19 on social media.

Court records show Christopher Charles Perez posted two threatening messages on Facebook in April 2020, falsely claiming he paid someone infected with COVID-19 to "lick items at grocery stores in the San Antonio area to scare people away" from the businesses, the US Attorney's Office in the Western District of Texas said in a news release.

Perez, 40, was found guilty of two counts for violating a federal law that criminalizes false information and hoaxes related to biological weapons, prosecutors said.

The Southwest Texas Fusion Center (SWTFC) received an online tip of a screenshot of the post, and the FBI in San Antonio investigated the matter.

"The threat was false. Perez did not pay someone to intentionally spread coronavirus at grocery stores, according to investigators and Perez's own admissions," prosecutors said in the release.

Perez's attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Perez's fabricated social media posts came at a time when COVID-19 had just begun widely spreading in the US -- shutting down many non-essential businesses and upending life across the country and around the globe.

In addition to the 15-month prison sentence, Perez must also pay a $1,000 fine.

"Trying to scare people with the threat of spreading dangerous diseases is no joking matter," US Attorney Ashley C. Hoff said in the release.

The US Department of Justice created the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force last May to combat pandemic-related fraud.

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 Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF online Web Complaint Form.

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