"Misguided" #COVID19 Facebook Post Lands American in Handcuffs

Police in the United States have arrested a 39-year-old man for spreading false information about COVID-19 on social media. 

San Antonio resident Christopher Charles Perez is accused of starting a coronavirus hoax with a post on his Facebook page.

A federal criminal complaint unsealed April 8 charges Perez with one count of violating 18 United States Code § 1038, which criminalizes the spread of false information and hoaxes related to biological weapons and weapons of mass destruction. 

The complaint alleges that Perez posted a threat on Facebook in which he claimed to have paid someone to deliberately spread the novel coronavirus around grocery stores in the San Antonio area of Texas. 

In his defense, Perez claimed that the post was a misguided attempt to help prevent the spread of the virus. He said that he posted the bizarre threat in the hope of deterring people from visiting stores and coming into contact with other shoppers. 

An anonymous online tipster sent a screenshot of the threat allegedly posted by Perez to the Southwest Texas Fusion Center (SWTFC) on Sunday. After reviewing the Facebook post, the SWTFC contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) office in San Antonio for further investigation.  

Perez was arrested by the FBI without incident at his home on Chateau Drive late in the afternoon of Tuesday, April 7. The accused is currently being held in federal custody. 

If convicted of the charges against him, Perez could be handed a jail term of up to five years in a federal prison. 

The FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Squad and the Joint Terrorism Task Force are investigating this case. Assistant US Attorney Mark Roomberg is prosecuting the case on behalf of the government.

The San Antonio grocery stores that Perez allegedly paid someone to infect with COVID-19 were not mentioned in the criminal filings. 

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said: "To be clear, the alleged threat was false; no one spread coronavirus at grocery stores, according to investigators."

At the time of writing, 177 people had died from COVID-19 in Texas, where there are 9,353 confirmed cases. 

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