Federal authorities announced the arrests Monday of two California businessmen who are alleged to have sought to earn millions from the coronavirus pandemic by selling masks they didn't have.
The men, Donald Allen, 62, and Manuel Revolorio, 37, of Rancho Cucamonga, face charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York said.
In a complaint, an FBI agent alleged that the scam began last month when Allen pitched a potential New York investor about an "opportunity" to resell 40 million respirator masks at double or triple their purchase price.
According to the complaint, Allen and Revolorio ran a company, International Commerce and Investment Group Inc., that falsely said on its website that it had worked for five years with global traders, medical institutions and general supply companies and that it operated multiple distribution centers with a well-stocked inventory.
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The company incorporated in 2017 as a real investment firm, the complaint says. A phone number listed on the site was answered by an adult telephone service.
Allen is alleged to have sent a brochure with bogus certifications for the masks in a follow-up email to the investor.
The investor alerted authorities, and an undercover agent posing as a businessman visited an office on April 13 in Rancho Cucamonga, east of Los Angeles, where Allen and Revolorio said they had boxes containing 40,000 surgical masks, according to the complaint.
At two nearby warehouses, the complaint said, Revolorio showed the agent more boxes, which he said contained more than a million surgical and respirator masks.
An investor working with authorities arranged to buy 4.3 million masks for nearly $5 million, according to the complaint. When FBI agents searched the Rancho Cucamonga office a few days later, they found dozens of empty boxes that had been shrink-wrapped, labeled and staged to look like they contained masks, it said.
At the warehouses, workers and an owner told the agents that the masks didn't belong to Allen and Revolorio, investigators said.
According to the complaint, the men told the agents they weren't price gouging.
It wasn't immediately clear whether Allen and Revolorio had lawyers. They were scheduled to appear in federal court in Los Angeles on Monday.
Authorities say criminals are running many scams to profit off the pandemic. On Monday, federal authorities in California warned economic impact payment recipients to watch out for people plotting to "intercept" their money. Others have used social media platforms to peddle unproven cures for the disease.