A Long Island man is charged with violating the Defense Production Act, after prosecutors say he hoarded several tons of personal protective equipment needed by first responders and health care workers who are treating Covid-19 patients and sold it at his store for huge markups, according to court filings.
In a complaint filed Friday, federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York say that Amardeep Singh, 45, filled his Long Island warehouse and store with protective equipment and sanitizing products that are in serious shortage nationwide and New York.
"Singh's amassing of critical personal protective equipment during a public health crisis and reselling at huge markups places him squarely in the cross-hairs of law enforcement armed with the Defense Production Act," said United States Attorney Richard Donoghue.
Singh's attorney, Brad Gerstman, said his client claims he is innocent and will fight the charges.
"Given the set of circumstances we're all living in with coronavirus, everyone trying to still make a living, for the federal government to start targeting private business and people seems unconscionable to me," Gerstman told CNN.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act on March 18, which made it illegal to accumulate products like personal protective equipment and sanitizing products "in excess of reasonable demands of business, personal or home consumption," and prohibited resale of projects at prices "in excess of prevailing market prices."
The complaint alleges that in mid-March, Singh created a section of his store to "Covid-19 Essentials," where he sold N95 respirators, face masks, surgical masks, face shields, gloves, coveralls, medical gowns and clinical grade disinfectant products.
Prosecutors allege Singh received more than 1.6 tons of face masks, 1.8 tons of hand sanitizer and shipments of shipments of surgical gowns weighing more than 2.2 tons. Singh is based in Nassau County, New York, where county executive Laura Curran said first responders are facing a critical gown shortage.
"Price gouging essential products during a pandemic is already unethical, but to hoard gowns when our County's hospital workers are in desperate need of them? Outrageous," Curran said in a statement to CNN.
The Instagram page for his business, called NY Tent Sale, or WLC, shows Singh posing with law enforcement and health care workers who he claims he donated protective equipment and sanitizing products to. Prosecutors shared a screenshot of the Instagram page with a photo of Singh wearing a face shield, with a mask not covering his face, standing behind rows of sanitizer and disinfecting wipes.
His business was raided on April 14, where authorities found nearly 21,267 KN95 respirator face masks, 75,000 surgical masks, 176,104 disposable latex gloves and more, according to the complaint.
Prosecutors say he sold face masks for $1 that were normally worth 7 cents -- a markup of about 1,328%.
Gerstman said Singh is trying to support his wife and three children during a difficult financial time and called prosecutors' decision to charge Singh under the DPA "absurd."
"There's nothing illegal about selling hand sanitizer, gloves or masks. He claims he wasn't gouging and that evidence of that will be laid out in the coming court proceedings," Gerstman said.
He sold items to non-profit organizations that help senior citizens and children battling the virus, the complaint alleges.
If convicted, Singh could face up to a year in prison. He is expected to turn himself into authorities next week.