A Plainview clothing store owner was charged Friday with allegedly selling medical-grade face masks at inflated prices in an attempt to illegally profit off of the coronavirus pandemic, federal authorities said.
Amardeep “Bobby” Singh, who owns retailers including WLC Mart, S&S Sports, Inc. and others, was charged with unlawful accumulation of scarce and threatened materials at Central Isip federal court.
“Singh’s amassing of critical personal protective equipment during a public health crisis and reselling at huge markups places him squarely in the cross-hairs of law enforcement armed with the Defense Production Act,” said Richard Donoghue, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
The case was billed as the first of its kind in the nation.
Prosecutors coordinating with the COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force said the 45-year-old Woodbury man dedicated a portion of his store to “COVID-19 Essentials,” where, he sold N-95 filtering facepiece respirators, face masks, surgical masks, face shields, gloves, coveralls, medical gowns, clinical-grade sanitizers, and disinfecting products.
The Nassau County Department of Consumer Affairs had summonsed Singh six times for price gouging, which comes with a $5,000 fine, for repackaging individual N-95 masks in Ziploc bags and selling them to consumers, in violation of New York’s consumer protection laws, according to investigators.
“It is simply unconscionable for anyone to prey on consumers during a unprecedented pandemic, especially as Nassau County leads the nation in confirmed coronavirus cases and fatalities outside of New York City,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said.
Prior to his arrest, tthe New York State Attorney General had also sent a cease-and-desist letter warning of “unconscionably excessive prices during a period of market disruption caused by the outbreak.”
He also sold N-95 respirator face masks without proper labeling and user instructions, sold outdated models of N-95 respirator face masks whose approval had been rescinded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and sold face shields without proper labeling and user instructions, prosecutors alleged.
The actions rose to the level of a federal crime after the suspect amassed materials “that far exceeded the reasonable demands of Singh’s retail business, which, until that point in time, had not dealt in such products,” prosecutors said in court documents.
Singh had acquired 40 shipments of face masks totalling 1.6 tons, 14 shipments of gowns weighing 2.2 tons, six shipments of hand sanitizer weighing 1.8 tons, and seven shipments of digital thermometers, weighing approximately 253 pounds., authorities said.
Such products were designated as scarce and threatened materials by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, making it illegal to such devices in order to hoard them or sell them at excessive prices.
Among the allegations were that he sold $2.50 N-95 respirator face masks for between $3.99 and $4.99, seven-cent disposable face masks for $1, and $8.50 32-ounce bottles of Perfect Purity brand sanitizer for $24.99.
Postal Inspectors who executed a search warrant at Sigh’s store seized 23 pallets containing more than 100,000 face masks, 10,000 surgical gowns, nearly 2,500 full-body isolation suits and more than 500,000 pairs of disposable gloves.
Singh will be arraigned at a later date. He faces up to a year in prison, if convicted.
Singh’s Garden City-based attorney, Bradley Gerstman, denied the allegations.
“We believe the misdemeanor charges against my client are unconscionable and unsustainable in a court of law,” Gerstman said. “Mr. Singh has been running his retail establishment for over 25 years. He is a part of the community and has donated significant PPE to fire departments and others. He has never gouged anyone and looks forward to responding to these unfounded allegations in court.”
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