Federal authorities have announced the arrest of two individuals who have been accused of embezzling vaccine cards from their place of employment for sale elsewhere. The first defendant is a registered nurse who stole vaccine cards from her employer at the VA Hospital. Another defendant is facing charges that he purchased counterfeit vaccine cards and attempted to sell them on Facebook.
The nurse is facing charges of theft of government property and embezzlement related to a health care benefit program. The Facebook guy is facing charges for trafficking in counterfeit goods and fraud related to official government documents. The charges have been filed and prosecuted by the U.S. State Attorney’s office meaning that both defendants will face federal charges for their role in distributing fraudulent vaccine cards.
The government does not take kindly to those defrauding the system. They contend such efforts place everyone at risk and undermine the efforts of health officials.
Fraud Related to Government Seals
Official documents have official seals which prove who made the statement. Private citizens using official seals to perpetuate a crime are allegedly guilty of fraudulently using a government seal. The law is set forth in 18 U.S. Code § 1017. There is a maximum penalty of five years for such an offense. The nurse will also be facing charges for theft of government property. Theft charges are related to the face value of the stolen property. In this case, it is unclear how many vaccine cards the nurse stole and the face value of each vaccine card. This could have a major impact on her case as a defendant would only face a misdemeanor charge for stealing less than $1,000 worth of government property. However, if the value is more than $1,000, then the nurse faces a possible felony charge and a maximum sentence of 10 years added to the five she is already facing.
Trafficking Counterfeit Goods
Trafficking in counterfeit goods is a felony under federal law with a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. The Facebook guy is facing one charge of trafficking counterfeit goods and another charge of fraud related to government documents and seals. So, he is also looking at a potential 15-year sentence.
The First Amendment
The First Amendment gives you the right to lie, so why can’t you use a government seal as you please? Essentially, this issue was taken up by the Supreme Court in a case involving stolen valor. The U.S. passed a law stating that falsely accepting receipt of military honors was a felony. However, the law was struck down by the Supreme Court that argued you have a First Amendment right to lie—but not to effectuate a fraud which remains illegal. In other words, you can place a government seal on something that has no apparent value or merit, but the moment you try to pass it off as the real thing for personal gain, that is no longer protected speech.
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