A 39-year-old Atlanta, Georgia resident allegedly tried to sell 125 million face masks to the Department of Veterans Affairs that did not actually exist.
Christopher Parris was charged for attempting to sell the face masks and other personal protective equipment for more than $750 million, according to the Justice Department.
He was arrested Friday and charged with wire fraud. If convicted, Parris faces up to 20 years of prison time and a $250,000 fine.
Parris, who was also charged in a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme earlier this year, promised that he could obtain millions of “genuine 3M masks” from domestic factories when he knew that fulfilling the orders would not be possible, according to the criminal complaint. Parris made similar fraudulent sales pitches to state government entities, federal authorities said.
Minnesota-based 3M is a company that produces the N95 masks known for filtering out airborne particles. Those masks have been in short supply at hospitals across the United States as the coronavirus pandemic overburdens medical supply chains.
3M said in late March that it was seeing a rise in counterfeit and overpriced face masks being sold worldwide. Its representatives said they were working with federal authorities to curb price gouging, fraud and counterfeit mask production.
Parris was on pre-trial release for the Ponzi scheme allegations in the Western District of New York when he was charged with felony wire fraud over the face mask deal with the Veterans Department, according to an arrest warrant. He was arrested in Georgia and ordered to be extradited to Washington, D.C.
“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,” said Attorney General William Barr in a prepared statement.
Parris, who previously lived in Rochester, New York, was arrested and charged in late January with mail fraud and conspiracy to engage in money laundering, according to court records.