A Brooklyn man who allegedly coughed on FBI agents and told them he had novel coronavirus, after the agents said they had confronted him about hoarding and selling medical equipment, has been arrested, according to the Justice Department.
Prosecutors said 43-year-old Baruch Feldheim sought to take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis and equipment shortages at New York's hospitals to make medical workers pay inflated prices for surgical masks, medical gowns and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
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On Sunday, FBI agents said they approached Feldheim at his home after observing several individuals walking away from his door with boxes that they believed contained medical equipment.
"After identifying themselves as FBI agents, they told Feldheim that they wanted to stay a distance away from him given concerns over the spread of Coronavirus," the DOJ said in a statement. "When the agents were within four to five feet of him, Feldheim allegedly coughed in their direction without covering his mouth."
Feldheim then told the agents he was infected with COVID-19, according to DOJ.
As a result, Feldheim was arrested and charged with assaulting a federal officer, as well as making false statements after prosecutors said he repeatedly lied about his possession and sale of the equipment. He has not yet made his initial appearance before a judge or entered a plea to the charges, and as of Monday evening did not have a lawyer listed on the district court's docket.
The arrest follows a nationwide campaign encouraged by the DOJ and FBI to crack down on those who may seek to use the current national emergency to hoard much-needed medical supplies and sell them at prices far above market value.
Agents accused Feldheim of doing so on multiple occasions.
According to the criminal complaint against him, Feldheim agreed to sell a New Jersey doctor "approximately 1,000 N95 masks" and other materials for $12,000, "an approximately 700 percent markup from the normal price," prosecutors said. When Feldheim told the doctor the location of the materials, the man went to a repair shop that held enough medical supplies "to outfit an entire hospital," the Justice Department said.
Agents also alleged in a separate instance that Feldheim offered to sell a nurse "a quantity of surgical gowns," and days later received a shipment from Canada containing "eight pallets of medical facemasks."
The Justice Department urges Americans who suspect coronavirus fraud, hoarding or price-gouging to contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud’s National Hotline at (866) 720-5721 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
What to know about coronavirus:
- How it started and how to protect yourself: coronavirus explained
- What to do if you have symptoms: coronavirus symptoms
- Tracking the spread in the US and Worldwide: coronavirus map