Feds Charge Marine Corps Reservist in Fake COVID Vaccination Card Scheme

Jia Liu, a 26-year-old Marine Corps reservist, has been arrested along with another New York man, 27-year-old Steven Rodriguez, and they have been charged with creating and distributing fake COVID vaccine cards, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

Liu has also been charged with conspiring to defraud the Department of Defense because he distributed the cards to other reservists who were allegedly looking to evade the military's vaccine mandate, the release states. Liu was also arrested in October 2021 and charged with four misdemeanors for entering the U.S. Capitol through a broken window during the January 6 riots, the Daily Beast reported.

Rodriguez, a nurse in New York, allegedly sold blank vaccination cards to Liu, who the DOJ says then distributed the cards to others for a profit or directed potential buyers back to Rodriguez, according to the DOJ. People who obtained the fraudulent cards, which totaled more than 300, would visit Rodriguez at the clinic where he worked, at which time he allegedly destroyed a dose of COVID vaccine rather than administering it to the individual.

The indictment alleges that Rodriguez would then fill out the card with false information and would also add the information into official immunization databases to indicate that the individual had been vaccinated. The defendants allegedly created over 70 false entries in the databases.

The men also allegedly conspired to enter data into state databases to allow the unvaccinated individuals to acquire New York's digital Excelsior Pass, the digital proof of vaccination created last year.

The plan allegedly took place from March 2021 through this month, when the pair was arrested on Thursday morning, the DOJ added.

In addition to Liu's charge of conspiring to defraud the Department of Defense, the men were both charged with one count each of conspiring to commit forgery and conspiring to defraud the Department of Health and Human Services. They were scheduled to make their first court appearance later Thursday, and if convicted, the men could face up to 10 years in prison.

The men also allegedly advertised their system on messaging apps and social media, referring to the false vaccine cards as "gift cards, Cardi Bs, Christmas cards and Pokemon cards," the Justice Department said.

"As alleged, by deliberately distributing fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards to the unvaccinated, the defendants put military and other communities at risk of contracting a virus that has already claimed nearly one million lives in this country," United States Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement. "This office remains committed to rooting out and prosecuting those individuals who threaten our public health and safety for profit."

During the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, Liu, a Corps reservist since 2014, was allegedly seen twice on security cameras entering the Capitol through a broken window, in addition to being recorded by police officers' body cameras at the scene. He was identified to authorities in the footage by another Marine Corps officer, and his cell phone location data showed the device inside the Capitol, according to court documents.

Update 2/17/22, 5:28 p.m. EST: This story has been updated with additional information on the arrest of Liu and Rodriguez, and context about Liu's prior arrest.

Fake COVID Vaccine Cards Jia Liu Marines
A New York Marine Corps reservist also arrested for participating in the January 6 riots has been arrested for allegedly making and distributing fake COVID vaccine cards. Above, blank COVID-19 vaccination cards are stacked at a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Larry Flynt's Hustler Club on December 21, 2021, in Las Vegas. Ethan Miller/Getty Images