Two fraudsters are facing federal charges after trying to sell nearly $5 million worth of personal protective gear (PPE).
They never had the PPE in stock.
Buzzfeed News reported that Donald Allen, 62, of Riverside, California and Manuel Revolorio, 37, of Rancho Cucamonga, California exploited the pandemic in order to cash in.
The two two men lied to an undercover agent about their inventory of surgical face masks and N95 respirators to get a potential investor to wire them millions of dollars.
Allen and Revolorio had created a website for their International Commerce and Investment Group and falsely indicated they have worked with global medical institutions to supply personal protective equipment since 2014.
However, their International Commerce and Investment Group was formed in 2017 as a real estate firm led by Revolorio as president and Allen as the vice president.
The criminal complaint that was unsealed on Monday in a U.S. District Court in Brooklyn revealed that the company did not get involved with medical supplies until 2020, and the toll-free number associated with the company on the website led to an automated message advertising an adult telephone company.
Authorities said that a potential customer tipped off federal agents about the suspicious joint venture.
An undercover agent then sought to buy masks from Revolorio and Allen, who created the impression there were other buyers clamoring for the protective gear to pressure them into wiring $4 million.
Buzzfeed reported the men were trying to sell $4,838,000 worth of personal protective equipment, "including 2.5 million three-ply surgical masks and 500,000 N95 respirators."
When the agent went to the office at a home in Rancho Cucamonga, the men showed their "customer" open boxes filled with masks, and others still sealed in shrink-wrap slapped with a label that said 3M—the company specializing in manufacturing masks for the healthcare and worker safety industries.
Federal agents who later searched the property discovered that those boxes were empty and were there as a ruse to authenticate the con men's bogus enterprise.
Authorities also stormed the warehouse in Rancho Cucamonga and only found 33,305 three-ply surgical masks—which is less than 2% of the 2.5 million amount they claimed to have in stock.
In the criminal complaint, Allen told the agent posing as an associate of an investor that he didn't want to inflate prices for fear it would raise a red flag for the FBI.
Allen was quoted as saying:
"Here's the deal, I'm not—I don't like to price gouge. I had some guys coming to me and they're saying, 'Well, you do the billing, we'll do this, and then we'll sell them at $6.10,' and I said, 'Get off my phone.'"
Richard P. Donoghue—the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York—said the men's actions were just another example of pandemic exploitation and profiteering.
He said in a statement:
"The defendants sought to take advantage of the urgent national need for life-saving personal protective equipment through a fraudulent scheme designed to line their own pockets."
Donoghue vowed that his office seeks to bring scam artists capitalizing on the pandemic to justice.
William F. Sweeney Jr.—assistant director in charge of the F.B.I.'s field office in New York—issued a statement, saying:
"The alleged behavior here is nothing short of a betrayal of fellow citizens—both those serving on the front lines, and the communities who need those essential workers able to safely serve."
"The FBI will continuously work to identify and hold accountable any company, individual, or entity whose intention it is to unlawfully take advantage of the current pandemic."
Revolorio and Allen could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
They were arrested on Monday and released on a $50,000 bond
According to the New York Times, Kenneth Reed, the attorney representing Revolorio, said in an email that his client would not plead guilty.