- 45-year-old Amardeep Singh was charged under the Defense Productions Act for hoarding and reselling medical supplies at inflated prices during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Before federal agents stepped in, Singh was repeatedly cited for violations related to his sales and even issued a cease and desist order by the office of NY’s Attorney General.
- Item’s seized from him included 100,000 face masks, 5,000 face shield, 10,000 surgical gowns, 2,500 full-body isolation suits, and more than 500,000 pairs of disposable gloves.
- He faces up to a year in prison if convicted, but his attorney said Singh has done nothing wrong by selling the supplies and was not price gouging when selling the goods.
How It Began
A man in New York has become the first person to be hit with federal charges under the Defense Production act for hoarding and price gouging desperately needed medical supplies during the coronavirus pandemic.
Before the virus outbreaks were a huge concern, 45-year-old Amardeep “Bobby” Singh was mostly selling clothing and shoes online and at his store in Plainview, New York. However, by mid-March, he began accumulating medical supplies that are highly sought after, especially within the state.
He allegedly set aside a section of his store for “COVID-19 Essentials,” selling them at inflated prices, according to a statement from the Justice Department.
Singh first caught the attention of authorities on March 18, when he was cited by Nassau County officials for engaging in “unconscionable trade practices.” That citation was related to Singh selling individual N95 masks packaged in Ziploc bags in violation of the state’s consumer protection laws.
Between March 19 and March 31, he was hit with six more citations for selling outdated supplies and items without proper labeling or instructions. Then on April 1, the state attorney general’s office issued a cease and desist order against his business for price gouging.
But even after all that, Singh apparently continued hoarding and selling, prompting federal prosecutors to step in.
In a criminal complaint against him, prosecutors say he even marketing the items on social media, showing the gear and letting people know what was in stock.
Federal authorities said that between March 25, 2020 and April 8, 2020, Singh allegedly received 40 shipments of disposable face masks, 14 shipments of disposable surgical gowns, six shipments of hand sanitizer, seven shipments of digital thermometers.
On April 14, U.S. Postal Service inspectors seized more than 23 pallets of equipment from him. This included 100,000 face masks, 5,000 face shield, 10,000 surgical gowns, 2,500 full-body isolation suits, and more than 500,000 pairs of disposable gloves.
The court documents also list the estimated markups for each item he sold. For instance, Singh allegedly offered face shields for $9.99, a 222% markup, after acquiring them at a cost of $3.10. Disposable face masks were marked up 1,328% from 7 cents each to $1.
Some of the places he allegedly price-gouged were vulnerable organizations like the Association to Benefit Children, the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens, and Rewarding Environments for Adult Living
Singh Faces 1 Year in Prison
Singh was charged with violating the Defense Production Act of 1950 in what authorities described as the first such prosecution during the coronavirus pandemic. Trump signed the DPA on March 18, which among other things, makes it is illegal to hoard and resell scarce medical supplies needed to treat the outbreaks.
Singh is expected to surrender to authorities next week and he faces up to one year in prison if convicted, However, his attorney, Bradley Gerstman, said his client did not price-gouge anyone.
“This is a man trying to make a living,” Gerstman told BuzzFeed News. “He’d never gouge. He’s a family man who has run a store for people in the community for 25 years. He’s got three young daughters, and we’re going to plead not guilty and then we will show by way of evidence that our client has done nothing wrong.”
Gertsman called the charges “mostly fiction” and said the criminal complaint misstates his client’s costs.
“This is news to everybody in the country that selling [personal protective equipment] is illegal under the Defense Production Act,” said Gerstman told Buzzfeed. “I can understand civil fines and penalties, but here we have a matter where my client is now subjected to criminal charges for something that he had no idea he was doing was wrong.”
“If selling PPE goods is improper or criminal, then a lot of people need to go to jail,” Gerstman said in a telephone interview with TIME.
“The Defense Production Act is wildly vague, and I don’t think this would pass muster on any appellate level. I think this statute would be struck down as null and void.”
Federal officials, on the other hand, have slammed Singh’s actions as un-American.
“During a crisis of this magnitude, we must come together as a country to fight this common enemy,” said Philip R. Bartlett, inspector in charge for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s New York division. “Unfortunately, Mr. Singh allegedly chose to use this opportunity to make money by hoarding and price-gouging [personal protective equipment]. The conduct charged in the complaint is reprehensible and against our most fundamental American values.”
Biden Issues Targeted Eviction Moratorium for Counties With High Community Transmission
While more limited than the previous eviction ban, the new policy applies to all areas with “substantial” and “high” COVID transmission, which currently includes 80% of counties that compose 90% of the population.
New Eviction Ban
Three days after the federal eviction ban expired, the Biden administration issued a new, more limited moratorium that will extend until Oct. 3.
Unlike the last freeze, the latest version announced Tuesday only pertains to areas of the country experiencing what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labeled “substantial” and “high” cases of COVID-19.
However, the rule still applies to the majority of the country given the new surges driven by the delta variant.
According to the CDC, 80% of counties that make up 90% of the population are currently experiencing substantial or high community transmission.
While not a full ban, many housing still advocates cheered the Biden administration, which has faced immense pressure to help the millions of Americans who risked losing their homes once the previous freeze expired.
“This is a tremendous relief for millions of people who were on the cusp of losing their homes and, with them, their ability to stay safe during the pandemic,” Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in a statement Tuesday.
Still, others noted that there are outstanding issues with the new policy.
First and foremost, while the moratorium covers most Americans, it does not cover all. According to reports, there are counties in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York that are protected from evictions while neighboring counties are not.
The county-to-county patchwork also adds another layer of confusion for many people who are on the brink of eviction or who have already been evicted.
Tenants and landlords are now scrambling to see if the freeze applies to them, and because of the temporary lapse in protection, evictions resumed in some states and cities, meaning that some people who would now be covered under the ban have already been evicted.
Perhaps the most notable obstacle is the fact that the new moratorium will almost certainly face legal challenges.
The Biden administration previously argued that it did not have the jurisdiction to extend the eviction freeze unilaterally, citing a recent decision from the Supreme Court, which ruled that the CDC could not extend the ban past July and that Congressional action was needed.
Three days before the moratorium was set to expire, Biden asked Congress to pass legislation to extend it before leaving for their August recess. Republicans blocked the effort by unanimous consent, and Democratic leaders, frustrated with the president’s last-minute demand that left them with few options, said they did not have enough support for a formal vote.
Biden, for his part, has acknowledged that any freeze that comes from his administration would face this obstacle.
“Any call for [a] moratorium based on the Supreme Court’s recent decision is likely to face obstacles,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I’ve indicated to the CDC, I’d like them to look at other alternatives [other] than the one that is in existence, which the court has declared they’re not going to allow to continue.”
Any legal proceedings, however, will take time, meaning Congress could act before any disputes are resolved. The extended timeframe would also give state and local governments more leeway to distribute the nearly $47 billion in rental aid approved in the last two stimulus packages.
Only $3 billion of the funding has been distributed due to the numerous delays and hurdles municipalities have faced while struggling to create new systems to dole out the much-needed aid.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CBS News)
Virtually All Emperor Penguins Doomed for Extinction by 2100, Study Finds
The new study comes as the U.S. The Fish and Wildlife Service moves to submit a proposal Wednesday to add the Emperor penguin to its list of threatened species.
Concerns for Emperor Penguins
Nearly all of the world’s emperor penguin colonies may be pushed to the brink of extinction by 2100, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Global Change Biology.
More specifically, researchers behind the study said 98% of the colonies could be gone in the next 80 years if climate change continues causing sea ice to melt at its current pace. About 70% of colonies could die off by 2050, it added.
That is pretty huge news because Emperor penguins — the world’s largest penguin species —are a vital part of the Antarctic food chain. They prey on krill, squid, and small fish, and provide a source of food for leopard seals and killer whales.
However, the birds are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they depend on sea ice for viral activities like breeding, feeding, and molting, along with resting or seeking refuge from predators.
U.S. Moves To Protect the Species
The new study comes as the U.S. government considers adding the Emperor penguin to its list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to build off this new research, along with other data, for its proposal on Wednesday. Once published in the Federal Register, the proposal will be open to a 60-day public comment period.
If the classification is granted, the species would receive protections, including a ban on importations of the birds for commercial purposes.
“These penguins are hard hit by the climate crisis, and the U.S. government is finally recognizing that threat,” Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, told the Associated Press.
“Climate change, a priority challenge for this Administration, impacts a variety of species throughout the world,” said Martha Williams, principal deputy director of the wildlife service. “The decisions made by policymakers today and during the next few decades will determine the fate of the Emperor penguin.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (AP News)
Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations
The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter
Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.
Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.
Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.
DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools
On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.
The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.
DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.
At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.
Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.