Following the outbreak of the coronavirus in the United States, the Department of Justice promised to take aggressive steps against anyone attempting to fraudulently profit from the pandemic. In March of 2020, the Justice Department took its first action against a Texas-based website selling a fake coronavirus vaccine.
This action was a civil injunction designed to shut down the website in short order. While the owner of the website is currently anonymous, the federal government has announced a wire fraud investigation into the perpetrators of the hoax. If convicted on these federal charges, the operators of the site could spend years in federal prison.
Texas Civil Action Against the Website
The initial enforcement effort taken by the Department of Justice was a civil action against a Texas-based website “coronavirusmedicalkit.com.” According to the DOJ press release, the site was offering a fraudulent vaccine that the operators claimed was created by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO has no affiliation with the website, and no known cure has been discovered to date.
In March, attorneys for the Department of Justice obtained a court order to shut down public access to the website. A statement from the DOJ Civil Division stated:
We will use every resource at the government's disposal to act quickly to shut down these most despicable of scammers, whether they are defrauding consumers, committing identity theft, or delivering malware.
Pending Criminal Investigation
The original enforcement action was civil in nature, but the DOJ has made clear a criminal investigation is ongoing. One potential reason for the lack of arrests is the challenge of obtaining the identity of the website owner. While the domain is registered with a company known as NameCheap, it takes a court order and additional investigation to identify the creator of the site.
Despite the lack of arrests, the owners of the site should be aware by now that federal authorities are aggressively pursuing them. If their identities are discovered, a prosecution seems likely.
What to do if You are under Federal Investigation
In many cases, it is not always clear whether you are under federal investigation. While there are times when investigators will advise you that you are a subject of their investigation, in other situations, they will not tip their hand.
The good news is there are some signs to determine if you are under federal investigation. The most obvious of those is when the federal government contacts you directly. In other cases, investigators might first make contact with your friends and family instead. If your loved ones report questioning from a federal investigator about you, it is possible you are a target of a probe.
In other cases, you might be the target of a formal inquiry. This could include a request for business records or even a subpoena. In serious cases, it could also come in the form of a search warrant for your home or business.
In any of these cases, it is vital that you seek counsel from an experienced Houston federal defense attorney as soon as possible.