A 23-year-old Maryland man has been charged with purchasing and distributing fake coronavirus vaccine cards to enrich himself, according to a criminal complaint unsealed in federal court Friday.
The man, Amar Salim Shabazz, was allegedly not shy about his scheme, either.
“I SELL PROOF OF VACCINATION CARDS,” he commented under an Instagram post about bars and restaurants requiring guests to show proof of vaccination cards, the criminal complaint said.
In his private messages on the app, prosecutors alleged, he told another individual, “I’m gonna be rich.”
Instead of wealth, Shabazz is now facing up to 20 years behind bars on charges of mail fraud and obstruction of justice. Prosecutors accused him of purchasing over 600 fake coronavirus vaccine cards, advertising them on several social media platforms, and distributing them through the U.S. mail.
The criminal complaint includes examples of what the government says is Shabazz selling the cards at various price tags, from $60 to $70 to “$75 a pop.”
Shabazz was previously convicted on charges of possession of child porn. He was released from prison in April.
“As alleged, while Marylanders were struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Shabazz took advantage of the crisis and sold fake vaccination cards, threatening the health and safety (of) our communities,” said United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek Barron in a statement.
Court records did not list an attorney for Shabazz, and family members could not be immediately reached.
Shabazz’s alleged scheme is part of a growing underground market of counterfeit vaccination cards, which are designed to undermine restrictions meant to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
Since the beginning of August, according to the criminal complaint, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have seized thousands of fake cards at shipping facilities across the country.
Bar owners, homeopathic doctors, pharmacists, and others have been arrested this year for selling fraudulent cards. The Attorney General even designed a task force to help thwart such schemes.
The surge of coronavirus-related fraud transcends vaccine cards, too. Also on Friday in Maryland, Brandon Fitzgerald-Holley pleaded guilty to using a nonoperational nonprofit to obtain coronavirus relief funds.
The 32-year-old used over $300,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program to buy himself clothes, a pool table, a car, and a vacation rental. His attorney could not be immediately reached.
Shabazz is accused of purchasing the fake cards through a Chinese wholesale marketplace known to sell fraudulent coronavirus vaccine cards, and distributing them to buyers in North Carolina and New Jersey, among other places, according to the criminal complaint.
In August, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers found and seized a package of 503 fake coronavirus vaccine cards addressed to his home in Owings Mills, Md., prosecutors said.
The criminal complaint alleges the Maryland man grew increasingly nervous after there was a status update to his shipment tracking number. Shabazz began to search on YouTube for “customs inspection packages VACCINATION cards,” complained about U.S. customs on Facebook, and then called the DHL shipment company under a fake name to inquire about his package, the criminal complaint said.
The day Shabazz called DHL, law enforcement replaced the fake cards with a box of disposable face masks and two individually packaged masks, according to the criminal complaint, before sending the package back to Shabazz.
“Can you believe this man?” Shabazz allegedly said in an Instagram video the next day. “Look yo. I got masks yo.”
Shabazz allegedly continued to sell the fake cards until Oct. 1, when law enforcement executed search warrants in a basement he used. Among fake vaccination cards and receipts for UPS shipping payments, officers found handwritten notes titled “Things Im doing when I get out (updated),” “Different options” and “SCAM Life/Legit.” One statement within the notes said, “buy guns from Dark web or [Company A] if for some reason I can’t get my gun liseance (sic).”
After the search, Shabazz allegedly researched how to delete his email and his account on the foreign marketplace website. He also Googled, per the criminal complaint, “fake covid19 cards penalties.”