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Man stole hundreds of surgical masks from veterans’ hospital, feds say

A volunteer sets up beds in what will be a field hospital in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine on April 8, 2020, in New York City. The 600-foot long cathedral, which is one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world, has partnered with Mount Sinai Morningside Hospital for staffing of the field hospital. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/TNS)

A Nevada man stole at least 200 surgical masks from a veterans’ hospital and then claimed he was going to donate them to the homeless, federal authorities said.

Peter Lucas, 35, was caught on surveillance camera sneaking into the Ioannis A. Lougaris VA Medical Center in Reno several times between March 19 and March 23 and taking at least four boxes containing 50 surgical masks each, according to a criminal complaint.

In each instance, he was seen grabbing the masks from a cart and hiding them under his jacket, the images show.

The suspect appeared in court Wednesday after being charged with theft of health care property.

His relationship to the hospital was not immediately clear, but he appeared to be familiar with the facility as he’s a veteran himself. A 2017 story by local news station KOLO described him as a former Marine and single father of three children.

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Lucas initially denied stealing the masks before admitting to the crime during an interview with investigators on March 25, according to the complaint. He told them he had taken the boxes for a friend who works in the medical field, but later said he took them for the homeless, authorities said.

A logistics supervisor for the VA Medical Center in Reno told investigators that the facility is facing a severe shortage of masks. The center ordered nearly 100,000 surgical masks in late January, when the virus was beginning to spread around the world, but less than a third of them had arrived by April 1, she said.

If convicted, Lucas could face up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

“Our military veterans served on the front lines to protect our country, and now our health professionals are doing the same in our fight against COVID-19,” Nicholas Trutanich, the U.S. attorney for the District of Nevada, in a statement. “We will not allow the theft of personal protective equipment to go undeterred, endangering the safety of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals protecting our communities.”

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© 2020 New York Daily News