A New York man coughed on FBI agents and claimed he has the coronavirus on Monday as they arrested him for allegedly lying about the sale of $12,000 worth of medical supplies.
Authorities say Baruch Feldheim, 43, of Brooklyn allegedly sold much-needed supplies such as N95 respirators and other personal protective equipment to a New Jersey doctor at 700% markup of their original price. When federal agents confronted him Monday at his home, he lied and said that he worked for a company that bought and sold PPE, according to the U.S. Attorney District of New Jersey's Office.
Prosecutors say Feldheim also falsely said that he didn't possess large quantities of PPE and that he never sold them directly to individuals.
The arrest comes just a few days after NBC New York reported that a desperate New Jersey primary care physician had turned to the black market to get medical supplies he needed in order to protect healthcare workers who are treating COVID-19 patients from the virus.
The current shortage of supplies triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic had forced Dr. Alexander Salerno and a growing number of hospitals and other care facilities to turn to untraditional suppliers.
"We have to go out and we have to go literally to these black market brokers or black market pirates and we are paying like 400 - 800% markups to get the protective barriers so I can fulfill that promise of protecting our staff," Dr. Salerno said.
While it was unclear if Feldheim was the one who sold Dr. Salerno the equipment, prosecutors say a doctor in New Jersey who has 106 medical employees in multiple offices across New Jersey contacted Feldheim via a WhatsApp chat group labeled “Virus2020!” on March 18. Feldheim later agreed to sell about a thousand N95 masks and other materials for $12,000, an approximately 700% markup from the normal price.
Feldheim then met up with the New Jersey doctor at an auto repair shop in Irvington. The doctor told authorities that the repair shop contained enough materials, including hand sanitizers, Clorox wipes, chemical cleaning supply agents, and surgical supplies, to outfit an entire hospital, according to the criminal complaint.
On March 23, 2020, Feldheim allegedly tried to sell surgical gowns to a nurse and told her to the nurse to come to his Brooklyn home. Two days later, Feldheim also received a shipment from Canada containing approximately eight pallets of medical facemasks. Two days after that, FBI agents found an empty box of N95 masks outside his home.
Investigators returned to Feldheim's home on Sunday and confronted him, according to prosecutors. That's when he coughed on FBI agents who were looking for the medical supplies.
Prosecutors charged Feldheim with assaulting a federal officer and with making false statements to law enforcement. It's unclear if he will face additional charges.
If convicted, Feldheim faces a maximum of six years in prison and a combined $350,000 fine for both charges.