New York man accused of hoarding COVID-19 materials for price gouging

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By AARON KATERSKY AND JUSTIN DOOM, ABC NEWS

(NEW YORK) — In what prosecutors are calling the first criminal case in the U.S. charged under the Defense Production Act, the owner of a sneaker and apparel store on Long Island allegedly began accumulating and selling at inflated prices merchandise associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amardeep Singh has been charged by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn with violating the Defense Production Act of 1950 by hoarding personal protective equipment — N95 respirators, face masks, surgical masks, face shields, gloves, gowns, coveralls, sanitizing and disinfecting products — at a warehouse in Brentwood, then price gouging customers at his retail store in Plainview.

If convicted, Singh faces up to a year in prison. He’s expected to surrender to authorities.

“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,” said U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue. “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.”

Between March 25 and April 8, Singh allegedly received dozens of deliveries at his retail store and warehouse, including 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 that weighed about 250 pounds.

These and other items, many officially designated as scarce, were advertised and sold at Singh’s retail store for sums far exceeding market prices, authorities said.

In one example, records obtained during a judicially authorized search of the store indicate that three-ply disposable face masks Singh purchased for 7 cents each were resold at a per-unit price of $1, a markup of more than 1,300%. Seized records also show that Singh completed bulk sales at inflated prices to organizations serving vulnerable senior citizens and children.

On April 14, postal Inspectors executed a search warrant at Singh’s retail store, and after a consensual search of the warehouse 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.

Singh had been warned previously. He was cited seven times by the Nassau County Department of Consumer Affairs between March 18 and March 31 for selling, and continuing to sell, masks. The state’s attorney general’s office sent him a cease and desist letter on April 1, informing him he may be violating state laws on price gouging.

The following day, Singh posted a YouTube video in which he apologized for selling masks in plastic bags but denied the other accusations.

“We were accused of three things,” he said in the video. “One of them is true, which was a very minor thing. It was a genuine mistake and something we will never do again. … Mistake No. 1, we put it in a Ziploc bag, which we admit was a mistake. No. 2, it was expired and we sold it? Well, that’s where we are right. No. 3, it was fake? That is absolutely wrong. We have all the proof.”

In response to the announced charges against Singh, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran issued a statement on Friday that read, in part: “The Nassau County Department of Consumer Affairs has rigorously pursued and issued ongoing price gouging violations to this actor to the staggering tune of $183,650 since March 18th. These violations include, but are not limited to, price gouging hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and face masks that expired in 2011. It is simply unconscionable for anyone to prey on consumers during a unprecedented pandemic, especially as Nassau County leads the nation in confirmed coronavirus cases and fatalities outside of New York City.”

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