Indian-origin man charged with hoarding, price-gouging PPE in US

Last Updated : 25 April 2020, 09:17 IST

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A 45-year-old Indian-origin man has become the first person to face criminal charges in the US under the country's Defence Production Act for allegedly hoarding the scarce personal protective equipment and selling it at huge markups during the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities said.

Amardeep Singh stockpiled tonnes of respirators, surgical gowns, hand sanitisers and other personal protective equipment (PPE) at a Long Island warehouse and sold it online through various websites and Nassau County storefronts at “unconscionably excessive prices,” Prosecutors from the US Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn said in a statement on Friday.

A criminal complaint was filed on Friday in a federal court in Central Islip charging Singh with violating the Defence Production Act (DPA) of 1950 by hoarding PPE at a warehouse in Brentwood, New York, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and price-gouging customers of his retail store in Plainview, New York, the statement said.

If convicted under the DPA, which is a misdemeanour charge, Singh faces up to one year in prison. He will self-surrender to authorities next week, the US Attorney’s Office said.

"As charged in the complaint, Singh’s amassing of critical PPE during a public health crisis and reselling at huge markups places him squarely in the cross-hairs of law enforcement armed with the Defence Production Act,” said Richard P Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

"This Office is working tirelessly in coordination with the COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force to prevent a pandemic of greed by profiteers."

"The criminal complaint describes a defendant who allegedly saw the devastating COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to make illegal profits on needed personal protective equipment,” said Craig Carpenito, head of the Department of Justice’s nationwide COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force.

There has been a massive scarcity of PPE in the US during the coronavirus outbreak. The US grapples with critical shortages of supplies and coronavirus cases continue to soar.

The US has turned to countries around the world with requests to donate or sell supplies ranging from hand sanitiser to ventilators in an effort to combat the deadly pandemic that has killed over 51,000 people in the US and has infected more than 905,000, CNN reported.

Singh allegedly bought 1.8 tonnes of hand sanitiser at USD 8.50 and USD 8 and jacked the prices up to USD 24.99 and USD 14.99, respectively, prosecutors alleged.

Singh also stockpiled 14 shipments of surgical gowns weighing in at 2.2 tonnes and 1.6 tonnes of disposable face masks, court papers state, and digital thermometers he purchased at USD 35.50 a piece and resold at more than twice his price.

Bradley Gerstman, Singh’s attorney, said that the stockpile has been seized by the authorities and his client has “done nothing wrong”.

Last month, President Donald Trump invoked the Korean War-era Defence Production Act, which allows a president to force companies to make products for national defence. The act was into effect in response to the COVID-19 outbreak by presidential executive order.

Published 25 April 2020, 09:09 IST

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