A US pharmacist, who is alleged to have bought $300k worth of N95 masks and sold them at inflated prices, will face federal court over charges of hoarding, price gouging and fraud
A pharmacist also known as “the Mask Man” has been arrested on charges of violating the US Defense Production Act by hoarding and price gouging scarce N95 masks, making two false statements to law enforcement, committing healthcare fraud and committing aggravated identity theft.
It is alleged the pharmacist “exploited an unprecedented crisis to engage in profiteering,” said Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman.
The New York pharmacist is accused of spending approximately US$200,000 (AU$301,000) accumulating 3M N95 masks between February and 8 April, 2020, and then selling masks at inflated prices.
He is alleged to have charged customers up to 50% more than he had paid to acquire those N95 masks.
Despite admitting to law enforcement that he was aware of restrictions on price gouging and hoarding, it is alleged the pharmacist continued to add to his stockpile of masks by buying thousands of additional N95 masks.
It is alleged he charged his customers inflated prices in connection with at least approximately 50 sales that, together, yielded him approximately US$50,000 (AU$75,300) in sales revenue.
The pharmacist is also accused of several additional, unrelated crimes, including lying to law enforcement, defrauding Medicare and Medicaid, and exploiting the personal information of his pharmacy’s customers to fill prescriptions, according to Mr Berman.
According to allegations, the pharmacist repeatedly sold masks out of his car, including to an undercover agent, during which he said: “I feel like a drug dealer standing out here.”
And during a recorded call with the undercover agent, the pharmacist reportedly said, “We’re in a time of emergency and shortage,” but added, “when you have something no one else has, it’s not a high price.”
Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Peter C. Fitzhugh said: “At this time when our nation is battling the COVID-19 pandemic and we expect that our healthcare professionals are standing in solidarity with us, the defendant, a licensed pharmacist, allegedly sought to capitalise and profit from the suffering of others.
“As the pandemic was starting to take shape in March and April of 2020, [he] allegedly began hoarding desperately needed Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).
“As demand for the PPE was peaking, he then purportedly took the opportunity to sell the hoarded PPE at prices as much as 50% above his acquisition costs,” said Mr Fitzhugh.
He said the agencies in charge of the investigation “will tirelessly pursue those in our society who choose to put their personal greed and gain ahead of the laws of the United States and our fellow citizens.”
US Postal Inspection Service Inspector in Charge Philip R. Bartlett added: “Thankfully, the ‘mask man’ has been unmasked by law enforcement and brought to justice for his alleged greedy crimes.”
The pharmacist was arrested on Tuesday and will appear in Manhattan federal court.