Federal authorities in San Francisco charged two women with robbery affecting interstate commerce, for stealing $ 90 worth of items from a Walgreens drugstore, by claiming to have the coronavirus. The federal complaint alleges that on April 6, 2020, the two women entered the store carrying empty bags. The women then began taking merchandise off the shelves and placing it in to their bags. When the store manager and a security guard approached them, they began coughing loudly and said “We have COVID.” The women were later arrested, and instead of being charged with petty theft or low level robbery in state court, the feds stepped in and charged the pair with violating the Hobbs Act – robbery affecting interstate commerce, for using threats of COVID-19. A violation of the Hobbs Act 18 U.S.C. Section 1951, carries a penalty of up to 20 years in federal prison, and up to a $ 250,000 fine. This seems to be a very heavy handed way to deliver a message to the public that the U.S. Justice Department is prioritizing enforcement of crimes against those who attempt to take advantage of the current pandemic for their own personal gain.
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