Baruch Feldheim, 43, is facing federal charges for allegedly stockpiling medical supplies and reselling them at inflated prices to doctors and nurses, as well as for endangering FBI agents by allegedly coughing on them while claiming to have Coronavirus.
Using the WhatsApp group labeled “Virus2020!” Feldheim connected with a traveling nurse working with nursing homes looking for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on behalf of their staff. He sold the nurse and doctor 3,000 surgical masks, 1,000 N95 masks, 2,000 sterile gowns and 800 gowns made of hazmat material for a total of $12,000. The transaction was a 700% markup from the regular price.
On March 29, FBI agents witnessed multiple incidents of individuals entering and leaving Feldheim’s home with boxes and bags assumed to be holding medical supplies, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The FBI agents then approached Feldheim, alerting they had information he was in possession of PPE materials. Feldheim intentionally coughed in their direction, telling them he had COVID-19, an action that garnered an assault charge.
Feldheim is also being accused of selling supplies crucial to fighting the current pandemic — 95 respirators, medical face masks, Clorox wipes and hand sanitizers. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has filed these items as medically necessary tools for professionals.
He was arrested Monday and is facing charges of lying to a federal agent and assault of a federal agent.
In the same statement, the Department of Justice detailed his false statement to the FBI:
Feldheim then made false statements to the FBI agents regarding his possession and sale of personal protective equipment and other materials. He falsely told the agents, among other things, that he worked for a company that bought and sold personal protective equipment and other materials and that he never took physical custody of the materials. Feldheim further falsely stated that he did not possess large quantities of personal protective equipment materials and that he never sold them directly to individuals.Department of Justice
Feldheim resides in New York, which as of publication, is the epicenter of COVID-19 with over 83,000 confirmed cases and 1,900 deaths. He used an auto-repair shop in Irvington, New Jersey to stash his supply.
According to the DOJ, the assault charge carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,00 fine. The false statements charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The Issue of Coronavirus Crime
Feldheim is hardly the first to engage in coronavirus-related crime. The DOJ has stated that people who intentionally expose others to the virus, such as purposely coughing on people and items, could face criminal charges of federal terrorism.
Price gouging is also a serious crime amid the current pandemic. People are hoarding everyday items like toilet paper and cleaning supplies. Both businesses and people are taking advantage by price gouging with the supplies they do have. A bottle of hand sanitizer that would typically run for $3-5 could be found on Amazon for nearly $100.
The DOJ encourages everyone to report coronavirus-related crimes (fraud, hoarding, or price-gouging) to the National Center for Disaster Fraud’s National Hotline at (866)-720-5721 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.