A Pennsylvania man was recently arrested in southern Utah after Utah Highway Patrol troopers say they found drugs, a weapon and cash in his car.
But what made this arrest unusual was what else was found in the man's car: COVID-19 vaccination cards that were stolen and being sold for $50 each, according to court documents.
Dino Angelo Rende, 19, of Pittsburgh, was charged last week in 7th District Court with 18 counts of forgery and possession of a firearm by a restricted person, third-degree felonies. He was also charged with unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon and drug possession, class A misdemeanors; marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia, class B misdemeanors; prohibited use of an identification card, a class C misdemeanor; and speeding, an infraction.
On Aug. 27, Rende was pulled over on Main Street in Monticello for speeding. During the subsequent traffic stop, troopers found $31,500 in cash, a shotgun, a small amount of marijuana, THC vape cartridges and 18 COVID-19 vaccination cards, according to court documents.
When questioned about the cards, Rende stated that one of his friends had stolen them from a clinic in Pittsburgh, a search warrant affidavit states.
"He said they both distribute the cards for $50 each. I asked Dino for consent to search his phone freely. He consented and I began a search for other sales," the investigating officer wrote in an arrest report. "I also confirmed the COVID vaccination card sales from a text message thread involving a man named 'Ted.' Dino stated that he needed five vaccination cards from Ted to sell to another individual who requested them."
When questioned about the money, Rende claimed $13,000 of it came from a 401(k) account, according to the warrant. Investigators also asked Rende about the firearm in the vehicle. "He stated it was for 'protection' and belonged to his father," the affidavit states.
Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Cameron Roden said this is the first time he and the trooper who made the arrest had heard of stolen or fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards being confiscated during a traffic stop in Utah. He said the investigation into the case is ongoing.