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A Georgia man allegedly tried to scam the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) out of more than $750 million by attempting to sell it nonexistent personal protection equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Justice Department (DOJ).
Christopher Parris, a 39-year-old Atlanta resident, was arrested Friday and charged with wire fraud for allegedly trying to obtain orders from the VA for 125 million face masks and other pieces of protective gear that he could not actually procure.
“We will vigorously pursue fraudsters who exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to make money,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. “Even beyond the typical costs associated with unlawful behavior, COVID-19 scams divert government time and resources and risk preventing front-line responders and consumers from obtaining the equipment they need to combat this pandemic.”
Federal investigators from the VA, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and Homeland Security handled the case.
They said that in one instance, Parris promised millions of 3M masks that were produced in domestic facilities, which he allegedly knew was impossible.
Minnesota-based 3M saw a backlash last week for exporting U.S.-made masks and other protective equipment to Canada and Latin America. President Trump subsequently invoked the Defense Production Act to order the company to prioritize orders of N95 masks for the federal government’s national stockpile.
Such masks have been in short supply since the early days of the outbreak and have become subject to alleged price gouging as hospitals and first responders see their stockpiles dwindling.
Earlier this week, police in California arrested a 30-year-old man whom they said sold undercover investigators a box of 3M masks for $300.
Parris will be extradited to Washington, D.C., according to the DOJ. He faces a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
There were more than 491,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States and more than 18,000 deaths in the country as of Friday evening, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.
“During this time of crisis, fraud or attempted fraud impacting services for veterans, who have selflessly served this country, is unconscionable,” said Timothy Shea, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. “My office will devote whatever resources are necessary to stop scams aimed at exploiting Americans during this unprecedented pandemic.”
Fox News’ Charles Creitz and Travis Fedschun contributed to this report.
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