A Brooklyn man is facing federal charges for allegedly stockpiling enough medical supplies “to outfit an entire hospital” and peddling them at inflated prices to doctors and nurses through a WhatsApp group labeled “Virus2020!”
Baruch Feldheim, 43, was interviewed by FBI agents on Sunday — during the course of which, he allegedly coughed on them and claimed he had COVID-19. He was arrested Monday and is now facing charges of lying to a federal agent and assault of a federal agent.
He’s also accused of hoarding supplies such as N95 respirators, medical face masks, Clorox wipes, and hand sanitizers — items that are desperately needed by medical professionals to treat soaring numbers of COVID-19 cases, especially in New Yor. They’ve also been designated as medically necessary tools to combat coronavirus by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Feldheim lives in New York, which is the current epicenter of coronavirus with over 66,000 confirmed cases, and over 1,200 deaths, and was using an auto-repair shop in Irvington, New Jersey, to stockpile supplies.
The federal charging documents describe how “Individual A” — a traveling nurse working in nursing homes — reached out to the “Virus2020!” WhatsApp group on behalf of their boss “Doctor A” in early March looking for medical supplies.
Feldheim, who was in the group, responded. After negotiating through text message and phone, he agreed to sell the nurse and doctor 3,000 surgical masks, 1,000 N95 masks, 2,000 sterile gowns, and another 800 gowns made of hazmat material, for a total of $12,000. That was a 700% markup from the normal price.
The doctor and nurse wired Feldheim money into a corporation listed under his wife’s name, called “Solo Supplies.” The doctor and nurse made multiple trips to the auto-repair shop in New Jersey to pick up supplies.
Inside the warehouse, they observed pallets full of medical supplies, boxes of N95 masks, and hand sanitizers of different brands, among many other things.
On March 20, Feldheim told the nurse that he’d had to move his supplies out of the warehouse after getting complaints from neighbors about the heavy traffic outside of the auto-repair shop. The FBI said they reviewed surveillance footage from a restaurant across the road, and observed “individuals moving large quantities of materials into a moving truck.” Some of those supplies, including facemasks, had been shipped from Canada, according to the charging documents.
Feldheim moved his operation to his home in Brooklyn, where he continued to peddle medical supplies to desperate doctors and nurses.
On Sunday, two FBI agents went to interview Feldheim. After flashing their badges, they told Feldheim that they were going to stay at a distance from him due to concerns of coronavirus. According to the documents, Feldheim got about four feet away from the agents, and “intentionally coughed in their direction without covering his mouth.” When the agents said they were investigating reports that he was hoarding much-needed medical supplies, Feldheim told them he had COVID-19.
Feldheim later admitted that he was in possession of certain medical supplies, but insisted that he worked for an intermediary company that buys and sells PPE materials, and then arranges for those materials to be shipped to hospitals. He said his employer got shut down because of COVID-19, which was why he had those materials at home. The FBI says he’s lying.
Feldheim isn’t the first to be accused of stockpiling needed medical supplies as part of a price-gouging scheme. Prosecutors across the country have probed similar complaints, including a Florida man who was trying to sell 15 N95 masks on Amazon for a total of $3,799, and a man in Tennessee who donated his stockpile of 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer after the state’s attorney general launched an investigation.
Cover: During the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, 3M N95 masks and other personal protective equipment have become scarce. Prentice C. James/CSM(Credit Image: © Prentice C. James/CSM via ZUMA Wire) (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)