A Long Island athletic shoe salesman illegally sold thousands of N95 masks and sanitary gowns at jacked up rates, federal prosecutors alleged in a criminal complaint filed on Friday.
The price-gouging and hoarding case against Amardeep “Bobby” Singh constitutes the first prosecution brought under the Defense Production Act during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Korean War-era law allows the government to designate needed supplies – like filtering facemasks and disinfectant – “critical,” giving the feds control.
Prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York alleged that Singh used his two shoe-selling businesses as a “COVID-19 Essentials” store, where he purportedly hoarded PPE and resold them “at huge markups.”
Singh did not immediately return a request for comment, when contacted at one of his stores.
The complaint – filed on Friday by a U.S. postal inspector – says that the Long Island resident began in mid-March to sell medical gowns, sanitizing fluids, facemasks, and other protective gear to the public.
Singh’s Instagram accounts – linked to in the complaint – show that his two businesses were posting about pandemic-related gear from mid-March onwards.
One post – from March 17 – offers N95 masks at the price of $8 for two, saying in the caption, “we are not price gauging in anyway (sic).”
The complaint charged that Singh’s pricing of N95 masks – from between $3.99 to $4.99 – constituted price-gouging, in part because he allegedly received a markup of 59 percent to 99 percent on the sales.
The complaint also noted that some of the masks were expired per Centers for Disease Control guidelines, while others had been taken out of their original packaging and were being sold individually in Ziploc bags or were being sold without proper instructions.
The county continued to issue citations (a total of six) before the New York state attorney general jumped in, sending a cease-and-desist letter on April 1 to Singh over price-gouging.
The federal complaint alleged that Singh continued to accumulate PPE, including 2.2 tons of surgical gowns and 1.8 tons of hand sanitizer.
Postal service inspectors took possession of a portion of the PPE while executing a search warrant on April 14, according to the complaint. That search allegedly turned up 75,500 surgical masks, as well as 711,400 vinyl gloves.
It is not clear how Singh obtained the supplies.
Hospitals and state governments around the country continue to scramble for the scare materials, as importers report mysterious cases of the federal government apparently taking possession of such shipments upon arrival at American ports of entry.
TPM profiled one such case which occurred in New Jersey in early April. In that case, a DPA order was issued but not executed, after the government determined that the supplies were headed to large hospitals.
But Singh appears to have focused his business on selling to the public. The complaint alleges that Singh sold in bulk to organizations that represent “uniquely vulnerable populations.” Prosecutors claim that on April 1 – the same day as the New York attorney general cease-and-desist letter – Singh sold 500 KN-95 face masks at a 185 percent markup ($4.99 a pop) to the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens, for example.
Numerous photos on his Instagram accounts show Long Islanders purchasing PPE supplies and huge amounts of sanitizer, surrounded by stacks of sneakers.
“We have hand sanitizers, face masks, disinfectant sprays, gloves, toilet paper, food, drinks, and tons of other cleaning supplies/essentials,” one post reads. “Most importantly Yeezy and Jordans.”