Feds charge used car salesman and 'the Mask Man' in COVID-19 schemes

The two men engaged in separate plots to inflate the prices of personal protective equipment used to guard against the virus, federal prosecutors say.

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By Tom Winter, Pete Williams and Jonathan Dienst

New York federal prosecutors have charged two men, a used car salesman and a pharmacist who dubbed himself “the Mask Man,” in separate schemes to inflate the prices of personal protective equipment used to guard against COVID-19.

The pharmacist, Richard Schirripa, 66, is accused of selling $200,000 worth of N-95 respirator masks at a 50% markup. “I feel like a drug dealer standing out here,” Schirripa told an undercover officer as he sold masks from his car, according to federal prosecutors in Manhattan.

Prosecutors say Schirripa sold the marked-up protective gear to funeral homes and doctors in eight states. Federal agents eventually recovered approximately 6,600 masks from Schirripa, prosecutors said.

The licensed pharmacist from Fort Salonga had already been on law enforcement’s radar after he allegedly made false statements to the DEA about destroying and selling opioids from the recent closure of his pharmacy in January and February.

Prosecutors say Schirripa kept the nearly 4,000 opioid pills in his possession, which were found in a safe in his home during a law enforcement search last month.

Schirripa surrendered to authorities Monday. He was charged with several counts, including healthcare fraud, making false statements and violating the Defense Production Act.

“As alleged, Richard Schirripa exploited an unprecedented crisis to engage in profiteering,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear if Schirripa had hired a lawyer.

In a separate case, Ronald Romano, a used car salesman from New Jersey, is accused of purchasing large quantities of personal protective equipment in February with the intent to resell it at up to 500% mark-ups to the city of New York and the Florida Division of Emergency Management during the heart of the crisis in mid-March.

“I’m working on a few deals that if I get any of them you might be buying a Ferrari,” Romano allegedly told a co-conspirator, according to federal prosecutors in Berman’s office.

Romano, 58, of Manalapan, was charged with wire fraud, conspiring to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to violate the Defense Production Act.

“At a time when the pandemic was ravaging New York City, this defendant greedily preyed on the city’s desperate need for protective equipment to stop the spread of the virus,” said Margaret Garnett, commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation, which assisted in the probe.