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US prosecutor charges Indian-origin man with hoarding PPE

New York An Indian-origin man has become the first person to be charged under the US’ Defence Production Act (DPA) during the ongoing coronavirus pandmeic with hoarding personal protective equipment (PPE) and price-gouging.

Federal Prosecutor Richard Donoghue said on Friday that Amardeep Singh amassed critical personal protective equipment during a public health crisis and resold them at a huge mark-up.

This “places him squarely in the cross-hairs of law enforcement armed with the DPA”, he said.

The DPA was invoked by President Donald Trump on March 18 to make it illegal to hoard scarce medical supplies and sell them at excessive prices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Singh obtained 5.6 tonnes of PPE, according to the prosecutor’s complaint filed in a federal court on Long Island.

He had earlier posted an online video apology saying: “This was unintentional. For me to make a dollar on a couple hundred masks, it’s not the intention for me to become rich overnight.”

Singh, who is also known as “Bobby Singh” and “Bobby Sidana”, runs a network of five sneakers and clothing businesses in New York suburbs on Long Island, according to the prosecution.

He collected various PPEs like N-95 filtering facepiece respirators, face masks, surgical masks, face shields, gloves, coveralls and medical gowns as well as clinical-grade sanitising and disinfecting products and thermometers starting in March when the pandemic began hitting New York, the prosecution said.

The court complaint said that he sold gloves at a mark-up of 1,328 per cent.

He had received 40 shipments of disposable face masks weighing more than 1.6 tonnes, 14 shipments of disposable surgical gowns weighing more than 2.2 tonnes, six shipments of hand sanitiser weighing more than 1.8 tonnes and seven shipments of digital thermometers weighing about 150 kilogrammes, according to the complaint.

Postal inspectors, who executed a warrant, seized 100,000 face masks, 10,000 surgical gowns, nearly 2,500 full-body isolation suits and more than 500,000 pairs of disposable gloves from his store and warehouse, according to the prosecution.

Some of the PPEs had been sold by him to a children’s organisation and to several senior citizens’ organisations.

He had earlier been issued a notice by the local consumer affairs authority for allegedly selling N-95 respirators illegally.

New York Attorney General Leitia James had also issued a cease and desist notice about selling hand sanitisers and other disinfecting products, at “unconscionably excessive prices”.