Coronavirus: Federal task force cracking down on fraudulent medical supply sales; Here's why California's at risk

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As healthcare workers struggle to find enough personal protective equipment, a federal task force is cracking down on those looking to profit at the expense of those who need it most.

Pallets of N-95 Masks are some of what federal investigators recently seized from a Brooklyn man who they say was hoarding medical supplies and selling them at a premium.

"Enough material to outfit an entire hospital," said U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Craig Carpenito.

RELATED: Coronavirus supplies: How Feds uncovered fraud involving 39 million N95 masks

Carpenito is leading the COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force.

"He was selling that product at approximately a 700 percent markup," said Carpenito. "There are just despicable actors who are taking advantage of fear. It's the most un-American thing that I think you can do in a time when the country is clearly in pain and needs this stuff to heal."

From the East Coast to the West Coast, Carpenito says there are certain places where hoarding and price gouging of COVID-19 medical supplies is likely to be more rampant.

"Brooklyn, New Jersey, Louisiana, California. This is where the materials are coming in from abroad and being picked up by a lot of these fraudsters," he explained.

Carpenito says others are claiming to be able to get medical supplies and looking to secure an up-front payment. That was what investigators saw in the case of Australian broker who said a supplier in Kuwait could produce 39 million N-95 masks. Several Bay Area hospitals and cities planned to purchase the masks before realizing something was off.

RELATED: Coronavirus supplies: 39 million N95 masks at center of fraud investigation

"What you learn on the back-end is that no product is ultimately there," said Carpenito.

He has a message for anyone thinking about committing these types of crimes.

"The Department of Justice takes this very seriously and you may see dollars signs in relation to the COVID-19 crisis but those dollars are short dollars. You are not going to enrich yourself because we are going to find out about it, we're going to bring you to justice and we're going to get that money from you and return it to its rightful source," said Carpenito.

The Brooklyn man, Baruch Feldheim, is facing an assault charge for intentionally coughing on FBI agents and telling them he had COVID-19.

He's also facing a false statements charge in relation to what he said about his large quantities of PPE.
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