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Feds distribute thousands of surgical masks, gloves seized by FBI

The masks, gloves, gowns and hand sanitizer were seized by the Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force.
Image: Boxes of N95 protective masks for use by medical field personnel are seen at a New York State emergency operations incident command center during the coronavirus outbreak in New Rochelle
Boxes of N95 protective masks for use by medical field personnel are seen at a New York State emergency operations incident command center during the coronavirus outbreak in New Rochelle, New York on March 17, 2020.Mike Segar / Reuters

WASHINGTON — The federal government said Thursday that it is distributing tens of thousands of masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment to medical personnel in New York and New Jersey after seizing the materials earlier this week.

The Justice Department said FBI agents discovered the stash during an operation by its Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force. Among the items were 192,000 N-95 masks, 130,000 surgical masks, 598,000 medical grade gloves, as well as surgical gowns, hand sanitizer and spray disinfectant.

The Department of Health and Human Services said it will pay the owner of the materials fair market value for the supplies that were confiscated. Criminal hoarding charges cannot be filed, a Justice Department official explained, because the materials were stockpiled earlier, before the government announced a crackdown.

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Law enforcement officials said the materials were stored at a car repair shop in New Jersey and a residence in Brooklyn.

On Monday, the FBI arrested the homeowner, Baruch Feldheim, on charges that he lied to agents about acquiring the materials. He was also charged with assaulting a federal officer by coughing on an agent while claiming that the was infected with COVID-19.

Court documents said Feldheim offered to sell protective supplies to doctors and nurses, arranging to make one such sale through a WhatsApp chat group labeled "Virus2020!"

Investigators said they watched people go to his house and walk away with boxes and bags that appeared to contain medical supplies. One doctor paid a markup of about 700 percent to buy masks and surgical gowns, according to prosecutors.

Feldheim appeared in court Monday to face the charges. He was released on bail and required to surrender his passport.