Today, Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán called for a full FBI investigation into those who intended to cause public panic by sending a fraudulent notice about the coronavirus in Carson, California.
“The type of misinformation that was spread last week – intentionally made to look like it was official news coming from public health organizations – is an extremely irresponsible and serious action. It cannot be tolerated,” Congresswoman Barragán said. “That is why I am calling on the FBI to launch a full-scale investigation to determine who created this false letter, and to prosecute all those responsible to the fullest extent of the law.”
Congresswoman Barragán announced her request of the FBI at a news conference in Carson with local public health and civic leaders to update residents about the status of the coronavirus in the area and warn about the spread of misinformation.
“It is important that the news on this coronavirus comes from health officials and other experts. Spreading rumors or unverified information is not helpful and, in fact, dangerous,” Congresswoman Barragán said.
She urged the FBI to work collaboratively with local and state officials to ensure that those who involved in this forgery are brought to justice, and to deter any future attempt to spread false information regarding this public health emergency.
“The public must be protected, and I look forward to working with law enforcement and public health officials to ensure that they are,” Congresswoman Barragán said.
Barragán represents California’s 44th Congressional District, which includes the communities of Carson, Compton, Florence-Firestone, Lynwood, North Long Beach, Rancho Dominguez, San Pedro, South Gate, Walnut Park, Watts, Willowbrook and Wilmington.
Full text of Congresswoman Barragán’s letter to the FBI follows.
February 3, 2020
Paul D. Delacourt
Assistant Director in Charge
Los Angeles Field Office
Federal Bureau of Investigation
11000 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 1700
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Dear ADIC Delacourt,
On January 31, 2020, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, declared a public health emergency in the United States in response to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.1 In addition, the Trump Administration announced that certain foreign nationals who are deemed to pose a risk of transmitting the disease will temporarily be denied entry to the U.S. Some American citizens who are returning to the United States and who are potentially at risk, will also be quarantined.2
As of February 1, nearly 14,000 individuals globally have been confirmed to have gotten the virus, most of whom live in Mainland China.3 During his declaration, Secretary Azar emphasized that “while this virus poses a serious public health threat, risk to the American public remains low at this time”. This sentiment has also been echoed by the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield.4
When dealing with a serious public health threat, it is incredibly important to protect against the spread of false information. The public needs to be informed, and anything that is purposefully used to mislead individuals can cause a potential panic. That is why I was quite disturbed when I learned of a false document being circulating on the internet indicating that cases of coronavirus had been identified in Carson.5 The false document used the official logos of LA County Department of Public Health, the World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This irresponsible action cannot be tolerated.
Due to the seriousness of the situation, I am calling on the FBI to launch a full-scale investigation to determine who created this false letter, and to prosecute all those responsible to the fullest extent of the law. During this investigation, must work collaboratively with local and state officials as well as law enforcement to ensure that those who involved in this forgery are brought to justice, and to deter any future attempt to spread false information regarding this public health emergency. The public must be protected, and I look forward to working with you to ensure that they are.
Nanette Diaz Barragán
Member of Congress
Cc: Voviette Morgan, Special Agent in Charge