WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The owner of a suburban New York retailer on Friday became the first person charged with violating the Defense Production Act for allegedly hoarding tons of protective face masks, gloves and other emergency supplies to profit off the coronavirus pandemic.
Federal prosecutors in New York charged Amardeep Singh with hoarding personal protective equipment and reselling it online and at his sneaker store in Plainview, in New York’s Long Island suburbs in a section called “COVID-19 Essentials.”
COVID-19 is the highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, which has killed more than 50,000 Americans.
“Singh’s amassing of critical personal protective equipment during a public health crisis and reselling at huge mark-ups places him squarely in the cross-hairs of law enforcement armed with the Defense Production Act,” U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement.
If convicted, Singh could face up to a year in prison.
Prosecutors said Singh ordered tens of thousands of pieces of personal protective equipment, or PPE, needed by healthcare workers including masks, face shields, gloves, medical gowns and sanitizers as the disease spread across the New York area.
They said that Singh’s Warehouse Liquidation Center sold the PPE at “unconscionably excessive prices during a period of market disruption” even after repeated warnings from county and state authorities.
Federal investigators said that Singh sold face shields and full-body isolation suits, which have been designated scarce and threatened items by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
A lawyer for Singh did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Defense Production Act, which was passed in 1950, grants the president the power to expand industrial production of key materials or products for national security and other reasons.
Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio