The United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California unsealed charges Tuesday in a criminal complaint charging Rodney L. Stevenson II with wire fraud for his operation of an e-commerce website that allegedly scammed customers into paying for N95 masks that they never received.
According to the complaint, Stevenson, 24, of Muskegon, Michigan, controlled EM General, a Michigan limited liability company created in September 2019. EM General operated a website that purported to sell an available inventory of "Anti-Viral N95" respirator masks.
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According to the complaint, EM General, through its website, falsely claimed to have N95 respirator masks "in stock" and available for sale and shipment during the shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on these and other representations, customers bought masks from the website, sometimes paying EM General more than $40 or more per mask.
Bay Area residents thought they were buying much needed N95 masks from EM General, but according to the criminal complaint Stevenson had no intention of delivering masks.
"What's described in the complaint is a consumer nightmare of fake web pages and false promises," said US Attorney for the Northern District of California, David Anderson.
EM General's website is mostly bare now, but Anderson says when investigators began looking they found much more.
"Stock photographs and fake bios purporting to describe the CEO, CFO and other top officers of EM General," said Anderson.
More than 90 customers filed complaints with the US Postal Inspection Service on or around March 30th alleging they placed orders on the EM General website and paid for N95 masks but never received them.
Three victims are from the Bay Area, including a healthcare worker in San Jose.
By phone Stevenson's father told the ABC7News I-Team that the family was asleep when agents arrived with "guns drawn." He called it a "witch hunt" and said that his son is a victim.
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On March 30th, Stevenson filed a federal complaint blaming defendants including web hosting company E-commerce LLC for freezing 3 million dollars of EM General's funds after receiving complaints from customers. The lawsuit claims that's why EM General couldn't refund its customers for the masks they never received.
"Unbeknownst to him at the time of the filing of the civil complaint we executed a search warrant on his Gmail account and as described in the complaint the allegations he makes in Los Angeles are demonstrably false," said Anderson.
"It can seem all too easy to lie on the internet but for those who would engage in this type of criminal activity know that the DOJ is here to stop you," Anderson continued.
A victim from NY told investigators he did receive masks from EM General but that they were cheaply made fabric masks not N95 masks.
ABC7 News I-Team reporter Melanie Woodrow broke this story earlier today.
For a look at more stories and videos by the ABC7 News I-Team go here.
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