An Atlanta resident has been charged with fraud after allegedly attempting to sell millions of non-existent respirator masks to the Veterans Affairs Department, the Justice Department said Friday.
Christopher Parris, 39, was charged with wire fraud in a federal court in Washington, D.C.
Parris allegedly told the VA he would provide 125 million face masks and other personal protective equipment in exchange for upfront payments that would have totaled more than $750 million. That included promising to obtain millions of masks from manufacturer 3M, despite knowing that fulfilling the order would not be possible, according to the complaint.
Healthcare providers are increasingly facing shortages of PPE including respirators, face shields, surgical masks and gowns as the novel coronavirus spreads.
Parris allegedly made similar misrepresentations to other entities as part of an effort to sell non-existent PPE to state governments.
The VA, Office of the Inspector General and Homeland Security Investigations investigated the case.
"We will vigorously pursue fraudsters who exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to make money," Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. "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."
The maximum statutory penalty for a wire fraud conviction would be 20 years' imprisonment and a $250,000 fine, according to the DOJ.