Coronavirus News: Long Island man charged with hoarding, price-gouging PPE

LONG ISLAND (WABC) -- In what prosecutors said was the first criminal case in the nation charged under the Defense Production Act, the owner of a sneaker and apparel store on Long Island began accumulating merchandise associated with the coronavirus pandemic and began selling it at inflated prices, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn said.

Amardeep Singh is charged with violating the Defense Production Act of 1950 by hoarding personal protective equipment at a warehouse in Brentwood and price-gouging customers of his retail store in Plainview.

The items include N-95 respirators, PPE face masks, PPE surgical masks, PPE face shields, PPE gloves, PPE coveralls, medical gowns and clinical-grade sanitizing and disinfecting products.

"My client, like many other individuals around the country, is selling PPE to communities, to people who need it, to police officers that aren't getting it, to hospital workers, to other frontline first responders," Singh's attorney, Brad Gerstman, said. "I simply cannot wrap my mind around criminalizing this activity."

Singh, who faces up to one year in prison, posted a video on YouTube apologizing for selling masks in plastic bags. He said mistakes were made, but he denied other allegations.

"We were accused of three things," he said. "One of them is true, which was a very minor thing. It was a genuine mistake and something we will never do again...To be very honest with you, this is my first pandemic. And I believe it is for you as well."

Between March 25 and April 8, Singh allegedly received deliveries at his retail store and warehouse of 40 shipments of disposable face masks weighing more than 1.6 tons, 14 shipments of disposable surgical gowns weighing more than 2.2 tons, six shipments of hand sanitizer weighing more than 1.8 tons and seven shipments of digital thermometers weighing approximately 253 pounds.

"As charged in the complaint, 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," United States Attorney Richard Donoghue said. "This office is working tirelessly in coordination with the COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force to prevent a pandemic of greed by profiteers."

These and other items - some of which had been officially designated as scarce - were advertised and sold at Singh's retail store at prices far in excess of prevailing market prices. For example, records obtained during a judicially-authorized search of the store indicate that three-ply disposable face masks that Singh purchased for a per-unit price of $0.07 were resold by Singh for a per-unit price of $1.00 - a markup of approximately 1,328 percent. The seized records also reveal that Singh completed bulk sales at inflated prices to organizations serving vulnerable senior citizens and children battling the virus.

On April 5, Nassau County fined Singh's store for allegedly selling N95 masks that were not actually N95 certified and selling them at an inflated price.

On April 14, Postal Inspectors executed a search warrant at Sigh's retail store and a consensual search of the warehouse and 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.

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