Manhattan DA charges 15 in fake COVID-19 vaccination card conspiracy

Manhattan DA charges 15 in fake COVID-19 vaccination card conspiracy
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The Manhattan district attorney’s office has filed charges against 15 individuals for their alleged involvement in a scheme to provide fake COVID-19 vaccination cards and alter state immunization data. 

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced Tuesday that his office filed charges against 31-year-old Jasmine Clifford for allegedly selling 250 fake vaccine cards via Instagram as well as Nadayza Barkley, 27, who according to authorities fraudulently entered at least 10 people into the New York State Immunization Information System database. 

Charges were also filed against 13 individuals believed to have purchased the fake vaccine cards. 

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The district attorney’s office said that authorities believe each of the customers works in front-line and essential services, including hospitals and nursing homes. 

Vance said in a statement Tuesday, “We will continue to safeguard public health in New York with proactive investigations like these, but the stakes are too high to tackle fake vaccination cards with whack-a-mole prosecutions.” 

The district attorney went on to urge social media companies such as Facebook “to take action to prevent the fraud happening on their platforms.” 

“Making, selling, and purchasing forged vaccination cards are serious crimes with serious public safety consequences,” he added, calling on anyone aware of individuals selling fake vaccine cards to notify his office. 

A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement shared with The Hill that it had removed Clifford's Instagram account in early August, adding that the company will "review any other accounts that might be doing the same thing." 

“We prohibit anyone from buying or selling fake - or even genuine - COVID-19 vaccine cards," the spokesperson added. "We appreciate the DA’s work on this matter and will remove this content whenever we find it.”

Clifford faces charges of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree and one count of fifth-degree conspiracy, Vance’s office said. 

Additionally, Barkley faces a first-degree charge of offering a false instrument for filing as well as fifth-degree conspiracy. 

The 13 additional people have each been charged with one count of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, with one of them also charged with offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree for allegedly paying to be entered in the state immunization database. 

It was not immediately clear if the defendants had attorneys representing them in the case. 

State and federal officials have ramped up warnings on the illegal sale of vaccine cards, which are given for free by vaccine distribution centers after receiving at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Earlier this month, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced federal charges against a Chicago pharmacist who allegedly sold 125 vaccine cards for roughly $10 per card. 

The charges came a month after the DOJ accused a California-based naturopathic doctor of providing fake vaccine cards to patients along with “immunization pellets” that the doctor claimed created an antibody response to COVID-19.

Updated 1:13 p.m.