Emergency medical supplies peddled by price gougers were redistributed to front line medical personnel in New York and New Jersey.
The departments of Justice and Health and Human Services announced Thursday the confiscation and redistribution of hoarded personal protective equipment—including 192,000 N95 respirator masks.
In a statement, Attorney General William Barr said FBI agents, working under an enforcement operation by the Justice Department’s COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force, discovered more than a half-million medical supplies held by an undisclosed seller on March 30.
The task force alerted HHS, which exercised its authority under the Defense Production Act to order those medical supplies to be furnished to the U.S. government. The confiscated supplies included 598,000 medical-grade gloves, 130,000 surgical masks, procedure masks, N100 masks, surgical gowns, particulate filters, hand sanitizer and disinfectant towels.
"If you are amassing critical medical equipment for the purpose of selling it at exorbitant prices, you can expect a knock at your door," Barr said in a statement. "The Department of Justice's COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force is working tirelessly around the clock with all our law enforcement partners to ensure that bad actors cannot illicitly profit from the COVID-19 pandemic facing our nation."
The confiscated supplies were immediately transported to the New Jersey Department of Health, the New York State Department of Health and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where emergency personnel are dealing with massive spikes of COVID-19 cases and shortages of supplies.
In a statement, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said the agency will pay the owner of the hoarded equipment “fair market value” for the supplies.
"Cracking down on the hoarding of vital supplies allows us to distribute this material to the heroic healthcare workers on the frontlines who are most in need," Azar said. "Thanks to the quick work of the White House, the Department of Justice, and HHS, the seized resources were distributed in days to the doctors, nurses and first responders who need them.”
Peter Navarro, DPA policy coordinator and assistant to the president, said this was the “first of many such investigations that are underway.”
The federal government has warned the public numerous times in recent weeks to be wary of COVID-19-related scams and price gouging. Members of the public who suspect price gouging are encouraged to notify the National Center for Disaster Fraud by dialing 1-866-720-5721 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.