- 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Between March 19 and March 31, he was hit with six more citations for selling outdated supplies and items without proper labeling or instructions.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.”
New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns
- The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
- The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
- The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.
CDC Issues Warning
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus.
The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.
Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.
Mitigating Spread of Variant
“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”
The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.
“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.
“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”
See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)
Former Michigan Gov. and 8 Others Charged Over Flint Water Crisis
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. (Al Goldis/AP)
- Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty Wednesday for his role in the Flint water crisis
- By Thursday, eight more former state and city officials were charged with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter to extortion.
- Flint residents have long awaited this news. In 2019, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against 15 officials and said they would start the investigation from scratch, citing concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.
Rick Snyder Charges
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said Thursday that it had filed 41 charges against nine former state and city officials for their role in the Flint water crisis.
The most high-profile figure to be charged was former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, he was hit with two counts of willful neglect of duty.
He was the state’s top executive when local officials decided to switch the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River in 2014.
The switch was supposed to be a temporary cost-saving measure while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. However, the water wasn’t treated properly for corrosion, so lead-contaminated water was released into the homes of people all over the city. Because of that, 12 people died and at least 90 were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease.
Snyder appeared in court this morning via Zoom, pleading not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges. If convicted he could face up to a year in prison and as much as a $1,000 fine.
His charges alone are significant because they make him the first governor or former governor in the state to ever be charged with a crime for alleged conduct while in office.
8 Others Charged
Along with Snyder, eight others were charged, including a former state health director Nick Lyon. Lyon received nine charges of involuntary manslaughter, among others.
Richard Baird, one of Snyder’s closes advisors was changed for extortion, perjury, and obstructions of justice. Others who were charged include:
- Jarrod Agen, Snyder’s former chief of staff and Vice President Mike Pence’s former communications director.
- Dr. Eden Wells, a former chief medical executive for the state Department of Health and Human Services.
- Darnell Earley, former Flint finance director and state-appointed emergency manager.
- Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager.
- Howard Croft, former Flint Public Works Director.
- Nancy Peeler, the state’s director of maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting for the health department.
Flint residents have waited a long time for justice over the water contamination issue. Prosecutors previously dropped all 15 criminal charges tied to the Flint case in 2019 and said the investigation would begin again from scratch.
At the time, they cited concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.
It also wasn’t until last year that the state reached a $600 million settlement with victims, establishing a fund from which residents can file for compensation.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Detroit News) (Detroit Free Press)
Three Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID-19 Following Capitol Attack
- At least three Congressmembers have tested positive for COVID-19 following Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol.
- Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) believe they contracted the virus after locking down in close quarters with numerous Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks.
- Jayapal and Schneider are calling for those who did not wear a mask to face consequences.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Tests Positive
At least three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 after locking down in close quarters with other House members during Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol.
Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, warned that members may have been exposed during the lockdown. He recommended that everyone who was isolated inside should get tested for the virus.
On Monday Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) became the first to announce that she tested positive. Watson Coleman believes she was exposed while in the Capitol lockdown. In her statement, she cited the multiple Republicans who refused to wear masks while inside. Video footage from Punchbowl News shows a Democratic lawmaker handing out masks and a handful of Republicans declining to take one.
Watson Coleman is a 75-year-old lung cancer survivor. While she said she is only experiencing cold-like symptoms, she tweeted that per a doctor’s suggestion, she headed to a local hospital for antibody treatment. She also encouraged those who sheltered in place to get tested.
More Cases Follow
Later on Monday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she too had tested positive, also blaming a lack of mask-wearing in the Capitol. In a lengthy Twitter thread, she said Republicans created a superspreader event and demanded consequences for their actions.
“Many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event ON TOP of a domestic terrorist attack,” she wrote.
“Any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable,” Jayapal added.
“I’m calling for every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol to be fined and removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) echoed her frustrations on Tuesday after releasing a statement saying he has become the third House member to have tested positive following the lockdown.
“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” he wrote.
Like Jayapal, he is calling for sanctions against those who opted to not wear masks.
Many health officials feared that this lockdown could lead to a surge in cases. They also worry that the mob itself could lead to a superspreader event as most of those who attacked the Capitol were not wearing masks and were crowding together both inside and outside of the building.