WATCH: EXCLUSIVE: Michigan man arrested for N95 mask fraud, Bay Area victims
As the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the country, people were desperate to get their hands on N95 masks.
Rodney Stevenson II seemed to have the answer. His website EM General advertised having masks in stock, but federal prosecutors say that was a lie.
According to a criminal complaint filed last year and indictment filed in January of this year, Stevenson pulled in more than 3.5 million dollars in sales in a matter of weeks between February and March of 2020, but delivered almost no masks.
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"There are a lot of people who say you defrauded them," said I-Team reporter Melanie Woodrow, who spoke to Stevenson and his attorney over Zoom on Thursday.
"I would never want to harm anyone and I do have sympathy for the customers that didn't receive their products during the pandemic," said Stevenson.
Stevenson says EM General was a drop shipping company, which means he relied on third party companies to fulfill his customers' orders. He says he started selling masks before he realized how difficult they were to come by.
"Google analytics and Google trends was actually recommending it as a product to sell. I had no idea there was a pandemic," said Stevenson.
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"Rodney was doing everything he could do to fulfill those orders and a delay in time a short delay in time does not equate to a mind state of trying to defraud somebody or steam from them," said Ryan D'Ambrosio, Stevenson's Attorney.
According to the indictment, many customers complained and asked for refunds.
Stevenson says he couldn't provide those refunds because his credit card processing company Electronic Commerce froze his account.
In an emailed statement, an attorney for that company writes, "Contrary to Mr. Stevenson's statements, Electronic Commerce pulled the plug on Mr. Stevenson's ability to process credit card sales to stop the fraudulent sale of N-95 masks that EM General could not get or deliver during the severe PPE shortage in February and March of last year. These facts are supported by the criminal indictment. Electronic Commerce's quick action stopped Stevenson's fraud and insured that money was available for refunds to defrauded consumers. So far, Electronic Commerce has refunded over $1.5 million to consumers defrauded by Mr. Stevenson and EM General's scheme to sell non-existent masks during the pandemic."
"It is terrifying to think of young entrepreneurs in America, especially young black entrepreneurs that are going to enter a drop shipping business and never take money from these people and get shut down as he's sending email after email to this company to issue refunds," said D'Ambrosio.
While apologetic, Stevenson says he's also a victim.
"I'm not the only victim in this situation of the credit card processor," said Stevenson.
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