An Atlanta man was arrested for attempting to defraud a federal agency into paying $750 millions for phantom orders of over 125 million face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE), federal authorities announced on Friday.
Christopher Parris allegedly misrepresented to the Department of Veterans Affairs that he could obtain millions of 3M masks from domestic factories when he knew that fulfilling the orders would not be possible. The agency provides services to veterans, including health care.
Face masks, gowns, gloves and other PPE have been extremely limited as health care workers are on the front lines aiding COVID-19 patients. To date, over 1.7 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with COVID-19, including over 500,000 positive cases in the U.S.
"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 U.S. Attorney General William Barr in a statement. "We will vigorously pursue fraudsters who exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to make money."
Parris, 39, is facing up to 20 years in federal prison for a wire fraud charge.
"During this time of crisis, fraud or attempted fraud impacting services for veterans, who have selflessly served this country, is unconscionable," said U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea for the District of Columbia, where Parris is expected be extradited and face a judge.
Parris also allegedly made similar false representations to other entities to enter into other fraudulent agreements to sell PPE to state governments, authorities said.
"We are committed to protecting the integrity of taxpayer funds and ensuring the delivery of medical supplies necessary to provide quality healthcare to our nation’s veterans, and any attempt to exploit the current global COVID-19 pandemic for personal gain will be dealt with swiftly," said Inspector General Michael J. Missal for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
If convicted, Parris faces up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Attorney information was not available as of Saturday.
Federal authorities are urging the public to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 to the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline 1-866-720-5721 or by e-mailing the NCDF at email@example.com.