A Long Island man is facing up to a year in prison for violating the Defense Production Act by hoarding and price-gouging critical COVID-19 supplies, prosecutors said Friday.
Amardeep Singh is the first person in the US to be criminally charged for violating the law, according to the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York. Investigators found and confiscated personal protective equipment found at his store and warehouse in Long Island, some of which was being sold at a 1000% markup.
Prosecutors say Singh's records show he purchased a slew of different equipment used to detect or prevent contracting the virus, and then jacked up the prices. The federal criminal complaint includes:
- Digital thermometers purchased for $35.50 each, then resold by Singh at $79.99 each — a 125 percent mark-up
- PPE face shields purchased at $3.10 each, then resold by Singh at $9.99 each — a 222 percent mark-up
- KN95 respirator masks purchased at $1.75 each, then resold for $4.99 each — a 185 percent markup
- 32-ounce bottles of "Perfect Purity" brand hand sanitizer purchased for $8.50 each, then resold for $24.99 each — a nearly 200 percent markup
- Face masks purchased for seven cents each, then resold for $1 each — a mark-up of more than 1,300 percent
Last month, President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act making it illegal to hoard scarce medical supplies or sell them at excessive prices.
Singh runs a retail and shoe store, but began selling PPE supplies in mid-March, the EDNY alleges.
From a warehouse in Brentwood and Singh's storefront in Plainview, investigators recovered more than 100,000 face masks, 10,000 surgical gowns, nearly 2,500 isolation suits and more than 500,000 pairs of gloves, according to the EDNY.
Singh's records allegedly reveal the store owner had inflated bulk sales to "organizations serving vulnerable senior citizens and children battling the virus," according to the Eastern District of New York. He also designated part of his sneaker and apparel store for "COVID-19 Essentials," where he sold items to the public at the inflated prices.
Authorities said Singh marketed the products on social media and continued selling them even after he received a cease-and-desist letter from the New York Attorney General’s Office, which called his pricing “unconscionably excessive.”
Singh’s stockpiles for now are being held as evidence, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency is “working through the details” of how to reallocate the materials to institutions in need of such equipment, said a law enforcement official familiar with the matter. The person wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the materials and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“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,” stated Craig Carpenito, head of the Department of Justice’s nationwide COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement that the county's Department of Consumer Affairs had issued the 45-year-old Singh more than $183,000 in price-gouging violations since March 18, and had found some of the items expired nearly a decade ago, in 2011.
"It is simply unconscionable for anyone to prey on consumers during a unprecedented pandemic, especially as Nassau County leads the nation in confirmed coronavirus cases and fatalities outside of New York City," Curran said.
Bradley Gerstman, Singh’s attorney, says "Mr. Singh denies he engaged in price gouging." Gerstman accused the government of sending mixed messages by asking for people to sell PPE and then charging his client, and said Singh has donated PPE gear to civic groups and first responders in the past.