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Two Defendants Charged in Separate, Covid-19 Vaccination Record Card Frauds

Publication date: 
Wednesday, September 29, 2021

DETROIT - Two defendants have been charged via criminal complaint for their roles in separate frauds related to Covid-19 Vaccination Record Cards, announced Acting United States Attorney Saima S. Mohsin.

Joining in the announcement were Gavin McClaren, Acting Special Agent in Charge, VA-OIG, Central Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh III of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) – Chicago Region and Vance R. Callender, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) field offices in Michigan and Ohio.

The first complaint charges Bethann Kierczak, 37, of Southgate with theft of government property and theft or embezzlement related to a healthcare benefit program. Kierczak, a registered nurse, was arrested this morning and will be appearing in federal court this afternoon on the charges.

According to the complaint, Kierczak is responsible for stealing or embezzling authentic Covid-19 Vaccination Record Cards from the VA hospital—along with vaccine lot numbers necessary to make the cards appear legitimate—and then reselling those cards and information to individuals within the metro Detroit community. The complaint alleges that Kierczak’s theft of Covid-19 Vaccination Record Cards began at least as early as May of this year and continued until the present.  It is further alleged that Kierczak sold the cards for $150-$200 each and communicated with buyers primarily via Facebook Messenger. 

The second complaint charges Rapheal Jarrell Smiley, 32, of Detroit with fraud involving department or agency seals, identity document fraud, and trafficking in counterfeit goods. Smiley was arrested earlier today and will also be making his initial appearance in federal court as well.

According to the complaint, Smiley is responsible for conducting an ongoing scheme to import and sell or otherwise distribute fraudulent Covid-19 Vaccination Record Cards. It is alleged that Smiley ordered the cards from two shippers in China, both of which have been previously identified by law enforcement as importers of fraudulent Covid-19 Vaccination Record Cards. Further, the complaint alleges that Smiley advertised the cards for sale via his Facebook and Instagram accounts.

“These arrests reflect our deep commitment to protecting the health of our community and preventing this dangerous fraud from affecting our most vulnerable citizens,” said Acting US Attorney Mohsin. “Regardless of whether an individual choses to get vaccinated, we urge everyone to avoid turning to schemes like these to evade vaccination requirements. Importing these cards is a crime. Selling these cards is a crime. We will continue to investigate these crimes and prosecute them accordingly.”

“VA’s COVID-19 safety protocols, including ensuring accurate vaccination records, exist to keep both veterans and VA’s healthcare workers safe during this global pandemic,” said Gavin McClaren, Acting Special Agent in Charge, VA-OIG, Central Field Office. “These charges symbolize VA OIG’s commitment to protecting the integrity of VA’s healthcare delivery system, and diligently investigating any potential criminal activity that could threaten the safety of its patients and employees.”

“The theft of government property is a serious crime, particularly when it involves documents that are used in recording patient health information,” said Special Agent in Charge Lamont Pugh III of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) - Chicago Region.  "Stealing and selling COVID-19 vaccination cards is an inexcusable act and will not be tolerated. HHS is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to protect the health and safety of the public during this pandemic.”

“At a time when Americans eagerly want to return to a normal way of life, these counterfeit vaccine cards undermine our confidence in COVID-19 vaccines,” said Vance R. Callender, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) field offices in Michigan and Ohio.  “HSI dedicates significant resources to investigate a wide variety of pandemic-related fraud schemes.  This arrest and seizure demonstrates HSI’s ongoing commitment to support the integrity of our public healthcare system by preventing the illegal importation and sale of counterfeit vaccine cards.”

A complaint is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt.  Trial cannot be held on felony charges in a complaint.  When the investigations are completed, determinations will be made whether to seek felony indictments.

The cases are both being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ryan A. Particka. The Kierczak investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs-Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG), VA Police Detroit and the Medicare Fraud Strike Force (MFSF) partners, a partnership among the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney’s Offices, the FBI and U.S. Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). The Smiley investigation is being conducted by agents from Homeland Security Investigations, the principal investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security.

On May 17, 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.

Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.

Additional Details
URL
Component
USAO - Michigan, Eastern;
OIG
Department of Health and Human Services OIG