Tons of sanitizer: Retailer charged with hoarding, gouging

Politics

In this undated photo provided by the office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, a mannequin outfitted in personal protective equipment stands on a ladder in a Brentwood, N.Y., warehouse. Federal prosecutors say New York retailer Amardeep Singh has been charged with hoarding disposable masks, surgical gowns and hand sanitizer in the Long Island warehouse and selling the items at huge markups in violation of the Defense Production Act of 1950. (A Bagnuola/US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York via AP)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Federal prosecutors charged a New York retailer Friday with hoarding tons of disposable masks, surgical gowns and hand sanitizer in a Long Island warehouse and selling the items at huge markups.

Amardeep “Bobby” Singh, 45, was charged with violating the Defense Production Act of 1950 in what authorities described as the first such prosecution during the coronavirus pandemic.

Singh is expected to surrender to authorities next week in the case around what is known as personal protective equipment, which has become a hot commodity during the outbreak.

Singh’s attorney, Bradley Gerstman, called the charges “mostly fiction” and said the complaint misstated his client’s costs.

“If selling PPE goods is improper or criminal, then a lot of people need to go to jail,” Gerstman said in a telephone interview. “The Defense Production Act is wildly vague, and I don’t think this would pass muster on any appellate level. I think this statute would be struck down as null and void.”

The charges come more than a month after President Donald Trump issued an executive order making it illegal to hoard scarce medical supplies or sell personal protective equipment at inflated prices.

“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,” Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a written statement.

Singh sells sneakers and apparel at his Plainview store, prosecutors said, but dedicated a new section last month to “COVID-19 Essentials,” including N95 masks, face shields, gloves and disinfecting products.

In late March and early April, authorities said, Singh stockpiled more than 1.6 tons of disposable masks; 2.2 tons of surgical gowns; 1.8 tons of hand sanitizer and seven shipments of digital thermometers.

Records from the store showed he bought the face masks for 7 cents apiece and then resold them for $1 each, prosecutors said.

A search of his business and warehouse turned up more than 5,000 face shields, 2,471 full-body isolation suits and 711,400 disposable vinyl gloves, according to court records.

Authorities said Singh marketed the products on social media and continued selling them even after he received a cease-and-desist letter from the New York Attorney General’s Office, which called his pricing “unconscionably excessive.”

Singh’s stockpiles for now are being held as evidence, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency is “working through the details” of how to reallocate the materials to institutions in need of such equipment, said a law enforcement official familiar with the matter. The person wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the materials and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

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