A Veterans Affairs hospital nurse has been charged with stealing and selling COVID-19 vaccination cards in Michigan, according to the Department of Justice. Her case is one of two unrelated vaccine card fraud cases in the Eastern District of Michigan, as the federal government continues to tamp down on pandemic-related fraud.
Last month, Detroit VA Police Services received a tip from a confidential source alleging that a registered nurse had been selling falsely filled-out Centers for Disease Control vaccination to both veterans and non-veterans, according the court documents. Bethann Kierczak, 37, had access to unissued cards because she was one of the nurses responsible for administering the shot at the VA facility.
The criminal complaint against Kierczak includes excerpts from conversations she had over Facebook Messenger, one of the platforms she used to sell the cards, complete with emojis and “lols.” Kierczak charged between $100 and $200 for each card. The source had already had previous conversations about the cards with Kierczak when law enforcement began monitoring their interactions with the source’s help.
“If you don’t forget to grab me about 10 of those things.. cough cough” [winking emoji] Ya know,” the source wrote on May 22, according to the court file.
“I am here, I will do my best, this pharmacist seems to be a little protective of the cards, lol,” the nurse replied.
According to prosecutors:
Working with law enforcement, the confidential source was able to facilitate the purchase of a fake card, which Kierczak delivered to the source’s home. She gave the source information about manufacturer name, lot number, and realistic dates that the source could write on the card to ensure it was believable. The source also maintained continued contact with Kierczak, reaching out several times to purchase more cards throughout the summer. On Sept. 27, a warrant was issued for Kierczak’s arrest by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. She was arrested and charged on Sept. 29.
Kierczak was charged with theft of government property and theft or embezzlement related to a healthcare benefit program.
“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, in a statement issued by DOJ. “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.”
DOJ announced that a second individual was charged in an unrelated vaccination card crime the same day. Prosecutors say Rapheal Jarrell Smiley, 32, purchased and sold counterfeit cards purchased from China. Like Kierczak sold his fake cards over Facebook, as well as Instagram. He was charged with fraud involving department or agency seals, identity document fraud, and trafficking in counterfeit goods.
These cases come months after the department announced a dedicated task force to combat pandemic-related fraud. In the year preceding the announcement, DOJ said that almost 600 people were charged for COVID-19 related fraud crimes involving over $600 million. Thousands of fake vaccine cards have been seized by Customs and Border patrol across the country.
Kierczak’s case is being investigated by the VA’s Office of Inspector General, VA Police Detroit and the Medicare Fraud Strike Force 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.
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