A man from Georgia has been charged with fraud after he allegedly attempted to scam the federal government by offering to sell millions of non-existent respirator masks in exchange for upfront payments, the Justice Department announced on Friday.
Christopher Parris, 39, is accused of making multiple false misrepresentations when he tried to sell the Department of Veterans Affairs 125 million face masks and other personal protective equipment in a scheme that would have totaled over $750 million. The DOJ said Parris promised that he could obtain millions of genuine 3M masks from domestic factories even though he knew that would not be possible. He was also accused of doing the same to state governments.
The 39-year-old has been charged with wire fraud and has been ordered to be detained as he awaits extradition to Washington.
“We will vigorously pursue fraudsters who exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to make money,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.
“As this case demonstrates, even beyond the typical costs associated with unlawful behavior, COVID-19 scams divert government time and resources and risk preventing front-line responders and consumers from obtaining the equipment they need to combat this pandemic.
“The Department of Justice will not tolerate this conduct, especially when it involves this kind of egregious attempt to target and defraud our nation’s treasures–our veterans,” he added.
If Parris is convicted, he faces 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
As Americans battle the CCP virus pandemic, which has caused human and economic devastation, criminals are attempting to take advantage of the fear and panic by creating schemes and scams to exploit victims.
Barr has previously instructed U.S. attorneys nationwide to prioritize prosecutions and investigations of scammers, fraudsters, and cybercriminals who are seeking to profit from the virus.
“The pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public panic, and this sort of conduct cannot be tolerated,” Barr said in a memo issued on March 16.
Some of the schemes involve individuals and businesses selling fake cures online for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Meanwhile, some are engaging in other forms of fraud such as sending out phishing emails posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The department is also looking to prosecute individuals and businesses who engage in anti-competitive behavior such as price-fixing of personal protective equipment and unfair business practices such as price gouging and hoarding of items.
Thousands of masks, gloves, and other protective equipment were confiscated from a hoarder and have been distributed to healthcare workers combating the CCP virus, the federal government announced last week.