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NYC pharmacist charged with hoarding and price gouging of N95 masks

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). (Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Released)
May 26, 2020

A New York City pharmacist was charged Tuesday following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York’s Dark Web & Cryptocurrency Task Force, with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Richard Schirripa, a/k/a “the Mask Man,” a licensed pharmacist, is charged with violating the 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.

“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, Richard Schirripa, a licensed pharmacist, allegedly sought to capitalize and profit from the suffering of others. As the pandemic was starting to take shape in March and April of 2020, Schirripa 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 Peter C. Fitzhugh, special agent in charge of HSI New York. “HSI, along with law enforcement partners, and the United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, 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.”

“As alleged, Richard Schirripa exploited an unprecedented crisis to engage in profiteering. He allegedly spent over $200,000 accumulating N95 masks and then sold masks at inflated prices, charging customers up to 50% more than he had paid to acquire those N95 masks. As alleged, during a sale to an undercover officer, Schirripa said, ‘I feel like a drug dealer.’ He also allegedly committed 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,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney, Geoffrey S. Berman.

“As alleged, Mr. Schirripa chose to amass a stockpile of PPE, specifically N95 masks, which were desperately needed for the safety of frontline workers. He then allegedly used this crisis to jack up the price of this equipment. Thankfully, the ‘mask man’ has been unmasked by law enforcement and brought to justice for his alleged greedy crimes,” said USPIS Inspector in Charge Philip R. Bartlett.

“There is no place in our city for a licensed pharmacist to allegedly victimize New Yorkers, especially at a time when people’s priority is their health and safety. I applaud our law enforcement partners for their collaborative efforts throughout this investigation,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Raymond Donovan.

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According to the allegations in the complaint, Schirripa engaged in at least three different criminal schemes: (1) hoarding and price gouging of thousands of N95 masks in late March and April 2020, in violation of the Defense Production Act (DPA); (2) lying to officers of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on two occasions in early 2020; and (3) causing Medicare and Medicaid to be billed for prescriptions based on false representations, from 2014 to 2019, as well as the unauthorized use of his pharmacy patients’ identifying information in connection with his health care fraud scheme.

As for the first scheme, from at least late March to April 2020, during the COVID-19 global pandemic, Schirripa engaged in hoarding and price gouging of thousands of 3M N95 masks. In early 2020, Schirripa purchased at least approximately $200,000 worth of N95 masks. On March 25, 2020, the DPA was invoked, making it a crime to engage in hoarding or price gouging of specified equipment, including the types of masks Schirripa had. Schirripa admitted to law enforcement that he was aware of the DPA and its restrictions on price gouging and hoarding. Nevertheless, in the two weeks after March 25, 2020, Schirripa charged his customers inflated prices in connection with at least approximately 50 sales, through which he charged them at least approximately $50,000. For instance, Schirripa charged up to $25 per mask for a mask which should have cost an end-user only approximately $1.27, according to 3M, the manufacturer. Schirripa’s markup was up to 50%, compared to his acquisition cost. His customers were in eight states and included funeral homes and doctors. Agents recovered approximately 6,660 masks from Schirripa.

Schirripa made various statements during this scheme. During a recorded call with an undercover agent (the “UC”), Schirripa 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.” In a text message dated April 2, 2020, Schirripa bragged to a potential customer that he “saw it coming” and the “good thing is no one has them.” Schirripa repeatedly sold masks out of his car, including to the UC; during that sale, Schirripa told the UC, “I feel like a drug dealer standing out here.”

Second, in both January and February 2020, Schirripa made material false statements to the DEA. On each occasion, Schirripa falsely represented that as part of the recent closure of his pharmacy in New York, New York, he had transferred to others, sold, or destroyed all controlled substances. In fact, Schirripa remained in possession of thousands of controlled substance pills/patches, including fentanyl, oxycodone, and oxymorphone. These substances were all recovered from a safe in Schirripa’s home. When agents executed a search warrant at Schirripa’s home in April 2020, Schirripa acknowledged that these controlled substances were from his pharmacy and he needed to destroy them. There were nearly 4,000 pills/patches, in total.

Third, Schirripa caused Medicare and Medicaid to be billed for these controlled substance prescriptions, and he falsely represented that these prescriptions were for patients of his pharmacy. In fact, these prescriptions were not for patients of his pharmacy, and Schirripa himself possessed those prescriptions at his home on Long Island. In connection with this scheme, Schirripa used the personal identifying information of his pharmacy’s patients, without their authorization.

Schirripa, 66, of Fort Salonga, New York, is charged with one count of violating the Defense Production Act, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison; two counts of making false statements, each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; one count of healthcare fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; and one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison, which must run consecutively to any other sentence of imprisonment.

A special thanks to the United States Postal Inspection Service, the DEA, and the New York City Police Department and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This investigation is ongoing. This matter is being handled by the SDNY’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit.

A criminal complaint contain charges and are not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

This press release was originally published by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.