Federal authorities arrested a man in New York for allegedly claiming he had COVID-19 and coughing on FBI agents when they confronted him about stockpiling and selling vital medical supplies at inflated prices, the Justice Department said Monday.
Baruch Feldheim, 43, had allegedly been hoarding medical gear and resources essential to fighting the coronavirus outbreak, such as masks, disinfectants, and hazmat gowns, and then selling them to doctors at exorbitantly high prices, according to federal prosecutors.
On March 25, the federal government issued an executive order barring the excessive accumulation of health and medical resources needed to fight the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Doctors and nurses in New York, which has been hit hardest by the outbreak in the US, have been facing shortages of personal protective equipment, requiring them to reuse supplies or leaving them exposed.
When FBI agents confronted Feldheim at his home in Brooklyn on Sunday, he allegedly coughed in their direction and said he had the coronavirus, they said in court documents. Officials say he also lied to agents about stockpiling the supplies.
He has been charged with assaulting a federal officer and making false statements to law enforcement. If convicted on both counts, he would have to pay a $350,000 fine and could spend up to six years in prison.
According to court documents, Feldheim, through his company Solo Supplies, Inc., had been marking up N95 masks and other supplies that have become scarce as doctors and nurses struggle to keep up with the influx of COVID-19 patients while protecting themselves.
In one case, Feldheim sold a doctor from New Jersey about 1,000 N95 masks, 2,000 sterile gowns, hundreds of hazmat gowns, and other materials for $12,000 — a 700% markup from the typical price, officials said.
The doctor got into contact with Feldheim in a WhatsApp group for health care professionals. When he went to a repair shop in Irvington, New Jersey, to pick up his orders on at least two occasions, the doctor said he saw "pallets" of critical supplies.
"According to the doctor, the repair shop contained enough materials, including hand sanitizers, Clorox wipes, chemical cleaning supply agents, and surgical supplies, to outfit an entire hospital," prosecutors said.
On March 23, Feldheim allegedly offered to sell a nurse surgical gowns and directed the health care practitioner to his home in Brooklyn. Two days later, Customs and Border Patrol records show that a truck from Canada delivered eight pallets of face masks to Solo Supplies.
On Friday, FBI agents said they photographed an empty box of N95 masks outside Feldheim's house. On Sunday, FBI agents documented several instances in which people arrived at his home and left with boxes or bags of what seemed to be medical supplies.
That same day, the agents approached and confronted Feldheim about his alleged operation. When they told him they wanted to keep a safe distance because of the outbreak, he allegedly coughed at them and stated that he had the virus, authorities said.
The agents continued to press Feldheim about his possession of protective gear and medical supplies. While he acknowledged he had "N95 masks, gowns, hand
sanitizers, and other PPE," he contended that he did not have them in "warehouse quantities," according to court documents.
Feldheim said he works for a company that buys and sells the materials on an "as-needed basis," and they act as an "intermediary" for hospitals.