Alleged PPE Fraudsters Used Empty Boxes To Pitch Undercover Agent

CARDIFF, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 03: A box of N95 surgical face masks on April 03, 2020 in Cardiff, United Kingdom.The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spread to many countries across the world, claiming over 70,00... CARDIFF, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 03: A box of N95 surgical face masks on April 03, 2020 in Cardiff, United Kingdom.The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spread to many countries across the world, claiming over 70,000 lives and infecting over 1 million people. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images) MORE LESS
April 28, 2020 11:11 a.m.
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The two alleged fraudsters thought they had a fish on the hook, ready to pay nearly $5 million for protective masks that, according to federal prosecutors, didn’t actually exist.

It would have been the business partners’ fourth sale ever, they later told FBI agents — and that’s including a small shipment to one of their sisters. This payday, by comparison, would be massive.

Except the deal was never going to happen. Their would-be customer was a criminal himself, working with law enforcement in hopes of a lighter sentence for his own federal offense. By the time the invoices were drafted, an undercover law enforcement agent, posing as the customer’s representative, had already sized up the men and their supposed stock of PPE. Within a few days, they’d be arrested.

The mask dealers told their mark they wanted $4,838,000 for their purportedly massive supply of 3-ply and KN95 protective masks, according to the criminal complaint against them unsealed Monday. The coveted personal protective equipment was said to be sitting in two California warehouses, ready to buy.

They showed off stacks of shrink-wrapped boxes at their office, the complaint said. A website of theirs allegedly claimed they’d been in the PPE business since 2014.

The feds say it was all a sham.

According to the complaint against California men Donald Allen and Manuel Revolorio, the boxes were empty, they didn’t have millions of masks, and the phone number on Allen and Revolorio’s website went to an “adult telephone service.”

The pair were arrested Monday and charged in the Eastern District of New York with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. 

Allen and Revolorio’s mask scheme started to go awry when a couple of their co-conspirators, who remained unnamed in the complaint, reached out to a man referred to as “Individual-2,” who claimed to represent wealthy investors in search of PPE.

In reality, Individual-2 had previously pleaded guilty to federal felony charges and was working with law enforcement the entire time, the complaint said.

The co-conspirators introduced Investor-2 to Allen on a phone call on April 9, in which Allen allegedly claimed he’d been “flipping” masks for a profit and told Investor-2 of an incoming shipment from China.

But it didn’t take much for the FBI to pick apart the allegedly phony claims the men made about their brokerage business.

A website for Allen and Revolvorio’s business, ICIG, said they’d been working in the global medical supply industry since 2014, but the company was really incorporated in 2017, the complaint said, as a real estate investment firm. Though ICIG claimed to stock “thousands of the products and brands used in various professional industries,” the company had neither a large inventory nor any distribution centers, the complaint alleged.

When Allen reached out again, Investor-2 said he would put Allen in touch with his associate — an undercover law enforcement agent.

In a phone call on April 13, Allen allegedly told the undercover agent to meet him at “our mancave slash, uh, auxiliary office” at a single-family home in Rancho Cucamonga, California to check out the goods.

Arriving at the “office” the next day, the agent allegedly saw “a large number of cardboard boxes in plain view” inside and on the back porch. Some of the boxes were open and contained face masks, others were sealed and shrink-wrapped.

Allen talked a big game during the meeting, claiming to have been in contact with an NFL franchise about a mask order and saying that he and Revolorio had $24 million “on the way” for other orders, according to the complaint. Revolorio took the undercover agent to two warehouses, showing him what Revolorio claimed were boxes filled with millions of masks.

Within a few hours, Allen emailed with an offer: 3,800,000 million 3-ply masks, plus 500,000 KN95 masks, in exchange for nearly $5 million.

But, according to the complaint, Investor-2 pressed for a commitment: “So you have an agreement with the seller that you can or you have an agreement with the owner that you can sell these, correct?” he pressed in a phone call on April 15.

“Absolutely,” Allen allegedly replied.

In reality, the feds allege, neither Allen, Revolorio nor ICIG actually owned the masks they were trying to sell. Two days later, the FBI executed a search warrant on the Rancho Cucamonga “office” that the undercover agent had seen, as well as the two warehouses they’d shown him.

“The search of the Office revealed, among other things, that most of the approximately 120 boxes in the living room and back porch were empty,” the complaint alleged. “Most of the empty boxes had been resealed, shrink-wrapped and labelled, which created the impression that they were filled with protective masks.”

There were masks in the warehouses, according to the complaint, but they too came with a catch — they didn’t belong to the men trying to sell them.

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