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Employee charged with stealing COVID-19 vaccine cards valued at $10,000

Hayley Smith, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES —An employee of a Los Angeles County mass vaccination site is facing a grand theft charge for allegedly stealing more than 500 blank COVID-19 vaccine cards.

Muhammad Rauf Ahmed, 45, was employed as a nonclinical contract employee at the Pomona Fairplex vaccination site in La Verne on April 27 when police received a call about a possible theft, according to the La Verne Police Department.

A security guard at the site had noticed Ahmed exiting the facility with a stack of cards in his hands.

Officials found blank vaccination cards in Ahmed’s car, and later uncovered about 400 more in his hotel room.

In total, they recovered 528 cards.

Detective Sgt. Cory Leeper of the La Verne Police Department said Ahmed, of Las Vegas, initially claimed he took the cards to “pre-fill” them and get ahead of his workload. But blank cards are not permitted to leave vaccine sites, Leeper said, and the stacks of cards in the hotel room were still sealed in plastic.

“That was not something that is allowed, and it was not something that anyone was aware of,” Leeper said. “He did not get permission for that. This was an intentional thing that he was doing in taking these cards back to his hotel room.”

His arrest and charges come amid a larger conversation around vaccine credentials, sometimes referred to as vaccine passports, which may be required for business, school, travel and other activities in the future.

 

In May, a San Joaquin County bar owner was arrested on suspicion of selling fraudulent COVID-19 vaccine cards for $20 apiece, for which he received felony charges for identity theft and forgery of a government seal.

Leeper said investigators looked to that case to help determine the value of the cards in Ahmed’s possession.

“Assessing the fair market value is tough, because one could argue it was just a blank piece of paper,” he said. But at a $20 valuation, the stolen cards were worth around $10,000, which is considered grand theft.

In recent months, the FBI has issued warnings that the sale of fake cards with a government logo on them is a crime. Marketplace websites such as eBay, OfferUp and Shopify have also been warned that the sale of fake cards is prohibited.

In L.A. County, COVID-19 vaccination numbers have been slowing, with just under 46% of the county’s residents fully vaccinated. During the week ending June 6, about 240,000 COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the county, compared to about 534,000 during the same week the month before, according to state data.

The Pomona Fairplex site, which was at times administering nearly 4,000 vaccinations each day, is slated to close after June 13 as the county transitions to smaller and more mobile clinics in an effort to reach more people.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said it filed one felony grand theft charge against Ahmed on Wednesday. He is scheduled to appear at the Pomona Courthouse in August.

©2021 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.