FBI Uncovers Scam Involving 39M Face Masks

A California labor union believed they were real
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 12, 2020 2:00 PM CDT
Labor Union Promised 39M Masks—That Didn't Exist
In this file photo, a box of procedural masks is opened in Iowa City on Saturday, March 28, 2020.   (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette via AP)

A major California labor union that claimed to have discovered a stockpile of 39 million masks for health care workers fighting the coronavirus was duped in an elaborate scam uncovered by FBI investigators, the AP reports. Investigators stumbled onto the scheme while looking into whether they could intercept the masks for the Federal Emergency Management Agency under the Defense Production Act, the US attorney's office said Friday. The federal government has been quietly seizing supplies across the country as the outbreak spreads. But in this case, there was no warehouse, and there were no masks to seize, the LA Times reports. US Attorney Scott Brady told the Times that investigators tracked the tip back to a Pittsburgh businessman.

That businessman, Brady said, had been working with the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West to secure millions of masks. The businessman had been communicating with a broker in Australia and a supplier in Kuwait, who are both now the target of a federal investigation. The union and the Pittsburgh businessman appear to be among a string of middlemen who were fooled. The promise of 39 million masks was first made public March 26, when the union announced it had found the stockpile after seeking potential suppliers by phone. No money was ever exchanged, but the masks never appeared, either. Experts say dubious brokers and suppliers have flooded the market with suspect medical-supply offers, creating an atmosphere of confusion and distrust.

(More face masks stories.)

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