A Chicago-based pharmacist, Tangtang Zhao, 36, has been found guilty of theft of government property for stealing and selling COVID-19 vaccination cards. The conviction was delivered by a federal jury in Chicago, marking a significant development in the battle against pandemic-related fraud.
Evidence and court documents presented at the trial revealed that Zhao had pilfered CDC-issued COVID-19 vaccination cards from the pharmacy where he was employed. He had been in a position to administer COVID-19 vaccinations, granting him access to these vaccination cards. Over a span of three weeks in March and April 2021, Zhao advertised and sold over 630 “authentic” vaccination cards, described as “straight from the CDC,” to approximately 200 unique buyers. Zhao’s fraudulent operations fetched him more than $5,600.
The jury’s verdict comprised 12 counts of theft of government property. The sentencing is slated for November 28, and Zhao could face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The ultimate sentence will be determined by a federal district court judge who will consider the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The conviction was announced by Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, and Deputy Inspector General for Investigations Christian J. Schrank of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG). The FBI and HHS-OIG investigated the case, with Trial Attorneys Claire Sobczak and Victor Yanz of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section prosecuting the case. Assistant Chief Leslie S. Garthwaite oversaw the investigation.
This conviction sternly warns small business owners and healthcare professionals about the severe consequences of engaging in fraudulent practices, particularly those exploiting the pandemic crisis. It underscores the urgency and importance of upholding ethical business conduct to protect individual businesses and safeguard public trust and welfare.
In light of this case, small business owners are urged to foster a culture of compliance within their organizations, ensuring employees at all levels understand the legal repercussions of fraudulent activities. Employers are encouraged to take preventative measures, such as regular training and transparent communication about company policies and expectations.
The Department of Justice has established a hotline to report any allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 through the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Web Complaint Form, accessible via www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
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