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Georgia man charged with attempting to fraudulently sell 50 million N-95 masks

As a protective gear shortage forced emergency workers to use the same disposable masks for weeks, a stockpile of N95s masks has sat unused in TSA storage, according to interviews and documents reviewed by the Star Tribune. (Star Tribune/TNS)
May 28, 2020

A Georgia man has been charged with attempting to sell 50 million non-existent facemasks to a foreign government.

Paul Penn, together with others, is accused of attempting to defraud a foreign government in connection with an attempted sale of 50 million 3M Model 1860 Respirator Masks, which he and his associates did not actually possess, said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.

Penn, through his company, Spectrum Global Holdings, LLC, agreed to act as a middleman in exchange for a cut of the $317 million sales price. The negotiated sales price for these masks was more than 500 percent higher than the previous normal market value for N-95 masks. Penn falsely represented that the N-95 Masks were owned by a group in which he was associated. Based on representations from Penn and others, the buyer, a foreign government, wired the funds to complete the purchase, which was disrupted by the U.S. Secret Service just before the transaction could be completed. The defendant was charged by way of an Information, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.

“Using a worldwide pandemic as an opportunity to take advantage of those searching for badly needed personal protective equipment is reprehensible,” said U.S. Attorney Christine. “Our office, together with our colleagues at the COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force and our law enforcement partners, will aggressively seek out any fraudsters who exploit this crisis as a way to make a quick buck.”

“This case should serve as a strong deterrent to those considering exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to enrich themselves through fraud.  The nation’s citizens, businesses and our international partners are counting on the U.S. Secret Service and its federal law enforcement and private sector partners to safeguard it and maintain the public trust,” said Resident Agent in Charge Glen M. Kessler of the Secret Service Savannah Office. “Tackling the threat of cyber-enabled COVID-19 scams requires an immediate response to safeguard our nation during these unprecedented times.”

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Criminal informations contain only charges; defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Attorney General William P. Barr created the COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force, led by Craig Carpenito, United States Attorney for District of New Jersey, who is coordinating efforts with the Antitrust Division and U.S. Attorneys across the country wherever illegal activity involving protective personal equipment occurs.  The Secretary of Health and Human Services has issued a Notice designating categories of health and medical supplies that must not be hoarded or sold for exorbitant prices.

Please report COVID-19 fraud, hoarding or price-gouging to the National Center for Disaster Fraud’s National Hotline at (866) 720-5721, or go to justice.gov/disastercomplaintform.

U.S. Attorney Christine acclaimed the hard work of the investigatory team, led by the U.S. Secret Service, for disrupting the scheme.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys J. Thomas Clarkson and Patrick J. Schwedler are prosecuting this case on behalf of the United States.

This press release was originally published by the U.S. Department of Justice.