Over the allegation of selling fake Covid-19 vaccination cards, a bar owner was arrested at his establishment in California.
Todd Anderson, 59, of Acampo, Calif, the bar owner was arrested on Tuesday and charged with identity theft, forging government documents, falsifying medical records and having a loaded unregistered handgun, Tori Verber Salazar, the San Joaquin County district attorney, said in a statement this week.
The investigation started after California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control received a complaint about fake cards being sold at the Old Corner Saloon in Clements, about 40 miles southeast of Sacramento.
The bar owner was also found with a loaded unregistered firearm, a felony, during his arrest.
“It is disheartening to have members in our community show flagrant disregard for public health in the midst of a pandemic,” Ms Salazar said in the statement. “Distributing, falsifying or purchasing fake COVID-19 vaccine cards is against the law and endangers yourself and those around you.” Mr Anderson declined to comment on Friday. His arraignment is set for May 18.
Agents from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control began their investigation into Mr Anderson after they received a complaint stating that fake cards were being sold at his business, the Old Corner Saloon in Clements, Calif., which is about 40 miles southeast of Sacramento.
It’s not clear how many cards were sold in total. Agents found two completed cards and 30 blank ones with a laminating device, Carr said. ABC said agents also found an unregistered firearm with Anderson during the arrest at his bar in Clements, nearly 35 miles southeast of Sacramento.
“This is the first case the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) has investigated that involves allegations of the sale of Fraudulent COVID-19 Vaccination Cards,” Carr told CNN via email.
Anderson faces three felony charges, including carrying an unregistered firearm, forgery of a government seal and identity theft of Pfizer, CVS and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office. He is also charged with creating a false medical record, a misdemeanor.
The arraignment for Anderson is expected to be May 18 in Lodi, California, according to the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office. A spokesperson for the DA’s office didn’t know whether he had retained legal representation.
The arrest comes as nationwide vaccination rates have fallen. While the United States averaged 3.38 million doses administered per day across a week in mid-April, the current seven-day average is 2.19 million doses per day, according to CDC data. The most recent numbers as of Wednesday show daily vaccinations have dropped by nearly 20% from last week.
Health officials last year decided that everyone who receives a Covid-19 vaccine will be given a vaccination record card showing their full name, date of birth, type of vaccine, and dose dates to keep track of immunization.
The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office took part in Mr Anderson’s arrest.
Each of the charges that Mr. Anderson faces is a felony carrying a maximum penalty of three years in prison except falsifying medical records, which is a misdemeanor carrying a maximum term of six months in jail.
Fake vaccination record cards have become a growing problem during the pandemic, according to the authorities. Vaccination cards provide proof that someone has been inoculated against Covid-19 in the United States and list the type of vaccine.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General and the F.B.I. recently published a public service announcement warning the public that selling fake vaccination cards with a government logo on them is a crime.
The advisory warned the public about those who sell fake Covid-19 vaccination cards and encourage others to print fake cards at home. The cards have been advertised on social media sites as well as e-commerce platforms and blogs.
“If you did not receive the vaccine, do not buy fake vaccine cards, do not make your own vaccine cards, and do not fill in blank vaccination record cards with false information,” the announcement said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also said it is “aware of cases of fraud regarding counterfeit Covid-19 vaccine cards.” It has asked people not to share images of their personal information or vaccine cards on social media.
In addition to the criminal charges against Mr Anderson, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said it would file disciplinary action against the bar. That action can include a suspension or revocation of its Alcohol Beverage Control license.
Mr Anderson is a Minnesota native who has lived in San Joaquin County since 1986 and has owned the business since 2005 according to the bar’s website.
Watch it here: ABC 10/Youtube