Because the coronavirus is something we’re all going through together (and often the only thing on our minds these days), we’ve created an entire section on our blog covering news stories and changes to the legal system related to the emergency. While we have covered some of the crimes we expected to happen during the outbreak, including people breaking quarantine, threats against people suspected of carrying the disease and increased domestic violence among couples sheltering at home together, this past week has resulted in some truly shocking coronavirus crimes that we didn’t see coming at all.
The Conspiracy-Motivated Train Derailment
In one of the most shocking coronavirus crimes, a train engineer intentionally derailed a train near the navy’s U.S. Mercy hospital ship because he was “suspicious” of its true purpose for being in port. While the ship has docked at the Port of Los Angeles to help treat injured and ill patients who do not have COVID-19, in order to free up much needed hospital beds for those who do, conspiracy theorists have been claiming the entire coronavirus pandemic is actually is a secret deep-state government takeover.
Eduardo Moreno, the engineer, said he believed derailing the train was his only opportunity to bring attention to his conspiracy views and “wake people up.” Fortunately, no one was injured and the hospital ship was not damaged. Moreno is being charged with train wrecking, a rare federal charge, punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment.
The Plot to Blow up a Hospital
Moreno is far from the only extremist with terroristic intentions related to COVID-19. One coronavirus crime that was thankfully stopped before it occurred was Timothy Wilson, who had long been planning to commit an act of domestic terrorism and when the coronavirus pandemic took over the headlines, he decided he would use a car bomb to blow up a hospital treating victims of COVID-19. Fortunately, the FBI had long been tracking Wilson’s activities and they set up a sting operation to catch him by offering to sell him explosives. Wilson died in the sting, so he will not face charges, but if he were, he would face federal terrorism charges such as plotting to use a weapon of mass destruction, punishable by life imprisonment, or even treason, which can carry the death penalty.
Coughing on Federal Agents
Hoarding much-needed medical supplies has now become a crime in light of the pandemic, but that was only the start of crimes committed by Baruch Feldheim. In fact, federal agents came to discuss Feldheim’s hoarding of supplies, like hand sanitizer, n95 masks, hazmat gowns and Clorox wipes, which he hoped to sell online for marked up prices. But rather than stay silent or ask to speak to a defense lawyer, Feldheim lied to the agents about why he had the supplies and then intentionally coughed at them, claiming to have COVID-19. Fortunately, the agents were more than 6 feet away at the time and were unlikely to be infected.
Because these coronavirus crimes involved federal agents, it will be charged at a federal level and Feldheim will face charges for assaulting a federal officer and making false statements to a law enforcement agent, so he faces six years behind bars. In fact, he is lucky because attorney general Barr recently announced that intentionally attempting to spread COVID-19 can be charged as terrorism.
If the charges were filed at a state level in California, he could face charges for knowingly exposing someone to an infectious disease, punishable by up to 6 months in jail, and attempted battery of a law enforcement agent, punishable by up to a year in jail. If one of the agents gets sick as a result of this incident though, charges and penalties could be increased.
Coughing on Grocery Store Items
One of the grossest coronavirus crimes we’ve read about is the woman who intentionally coughed all over a grocery store’s produce, bakery and butcher shop items after telling employees she was sick, resulting in the store destroying $35,000 worth of merchandise. She also tried to steal a 12 pack of beer on her way out. While there’s no evidence that Margaret Cirko actually has COVID-19, the store understandably didn’t want to take chances with its customer’s health. The crime occurred in Pennsylvania and the woman is now facing felony charges for making terrorist threats, criminal mischief and threats to use a biological agent. She will also face misdemeanor charges for criminal attempt to commit retail theft and disorderly conduct.
In California, someone who committed the same crimes could potentially face similar charges, including vandalism, criminal threats, attempted battery, disorderly conduct, knowingly exposing someone to an infectious disease, shoplifting and food tampering. If anyone actually became ill as a result of her behavior, she could also potentially face charges of battery or even terrorism. Obviously this combination of crimes could leave Cirko behind bars for a very long time, but it’s also worth knowing that she would almost certainly be required to pay restitution to the store for the $35,000 worth of merchandise they were forced to destroy.
The Coronavirus Murder
While social distancing is important, it’s also important to remember not to lose your cool over it. Cassandra Lundy, a patient in a hospital in Brooklyn, hit another patient, Janie Marshall, when Marshall got too close to her in the hallway. Neither patient was there for COVID-19, but Lundy was on edge about social distancing requirements. When Marshall was hit, she fell and hit her head, which later resulted in her death.
The original attack is considered battery, but if the autopsy proves Marshall died as a result of her injuries, Lundy will face murder charges. It’s likely a criminal attorney will be able to have the charges reduced to manslaughter if she is charged with murder, but that can still leave her in prison for a long period of time, especially over an overreaction against social distancing practices.
Wrongly Reported Coronavirus Crimes
Not all news of coronavirus crime new stories are bad though. In one surprisingly lighthearted story, someone called the police to report a comedy club in Liverpool, England that was streaming a video on Facebook Live showing a packed audience. Just like California, England is on lock down and large gatherings have been prohibited with penalties including a warning or a misdemeanor citation. A dozen police arrived on the scene and knocked on the door only to find a quiet club that appeared empty. Only then did some of the officers take out their phones to view the video, which was clearly labeled as “pre-recorded.”
If you have been accused of any coronavirus crimes, call Peter Liss as soon as possible. He can help you fight the charges. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.
Image by enriquelopezgarre