NEW YORK — Manhattan prosecutors have found 13 essential workers — including hospital, nursing home and school staff — who preferred to pay $200 for fake COVID-19 vaccine documents than get a free-of-charge jab in the arm.
The scam’s accused mastermind, Jasmine Clifford, 31, had a warrant out for her arrest and was expected to appear in a Manhattan court on two felony counts and a conspiracy charge.
Prosecutors say Clifford — who has a number of online businesses — forged at least 250 fake vaccination cards and then sold them online under the Instagram alias AntiVaxMomma.
Clifford, a Lyndhurst, N.J., resident, accepted $200 payment for vaccine cards via CashApp and Zelle, said prosecutors. The AntiVaxMomma Instagram page was down on Tuesday.
Clifford was aided by Nadayza Barkley, 27, who fraudulently entered the names of at least 10 of the scheme’s buyers into the state’s Excelsior Pass system, which provides vaccine documents to users’ cellphones, prosecutors said.
Barkley, of Bellport, on Long Island, allegedly accessed the state database through her job at a medical clinic in Patchogue.
Having Barkley enter the customers’ information in New York’s official vaccination database — which leads to acquiring an Excelsior Pass, now a key to entering venues such as restaurants, sporting events and gyms — set Clifford’s customers back another $250, prosecutors said.
The DA charged the 13 essential workers with felony criminal possession of a forged instrument and conspiracy, a misdemeanor. Prosecutors also accused one of the 13 with offering a false instrument for filing, for paying the extra $250 to be entered in the Excelsior Pass database.
The card buyers arraigned in court Tuesday were Samantha Orellana, Jennifer Oramas, Mildred Andaluz, Kareem Anderson, Tiffany Martell, Jennifer Roque Caraballo, Falisha Barnes, Stephanie Gonzalez and Vanessa Espinales. Five more are expected to be arraigned in Manhattan in the coming days.
A popular TikTok user, whose digital moniker is TizzyEnt, sounded an alarm about AntiVaxMomma last week. TizzyEnt shared on his page screenshots and videos Clifford posted to her 302,000 followers from her personal account.
“$200/CARD. REAL CARDS, REAL LOT S. REAL VACCINATION SITES,” read one of Clifford’s captions on a photo showing bundles of purported fake CDC vaccine cards. “SHIPPING OUT TODAY AND TOMORROW.”
In another post that TizzyEnt shared with his followers in outing Clifford, she said she wanted to expand her “team” and enlist more hospital and pharmacy workers with access to the state’s immunization database.
“I messaged her initially from another account on Instagram and presented myself as somebody who worked at a Walgreens,” TizzyEnt told the Dailiy News. “And she immediately was like, ‘Do you have computer access?’”
“She was very open and willing to give a lot of information,” said TizzyEnt, who asked that he not be identified by his real name. “I was sort of shocked and surprised that she was. But yeah, (she) clearly stated that she had someone already entering information” in New York’s Excelsior Pass database.
TizzyEnt said his followers have alerted him to dozens more similar schemes — a reality Manhattan DA Cy Vance Jr. acknowledged in a statement about Clifford’s case.
Case-by-case prosecutions aren’t enough to deal with the public health issues raised by fake vaccine card scams, Vance said.
“We will continue to safeguard public health in New York with proactive investigations like these, but the stakes are too high to tackle fake vaccination cards with whack-a-mole prosecutions,” said Vance.
“We need companies like Facebook to take action to prevent the fraud happening on their platforms. Making, selling and purchasing forged vaccination cards are serious crimes with serious public safety consequences. This investigation is ongoing.”
The Manhattan DA’s office has urged anyone aware of similar fake vaccine card scams to call the office’s Financial Frauds Bureau at 212-335-8900. Tips can be confidential.