(WXYZ) — Don’t hoard medical supplies. That’s the message from the United States Attorney and FBI Special Agent in Charge for Michigan. U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider says the Justice Department is receiving reports of people using the coronavirus pandemic to hoard crucial medical supplies, and then they are selling them at excessive prices.
President Trump issued an Executive Order on March 23, 2020 which prohibits hoarding items such as N95 respirator masks, portable ventilators, and drugs with the active ingredient chloroquine phosphate or hydroxychoroquine HCl. The order also bans the hoarding of disinfecting devices, medical gowns or apparel, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), PPE face masks, PPE surgical masks, and gloves.
“We are not going after regular people in Michigan who are stocking up in a reasonable manner, or businesses who are making smart storage decisions,” said Schneider. “But if you are hoarding goods far above what you need, or if you’re trying to rip off the people of Michigan by profiting from the pandemic, we will be targeting you.”
Recently in Brooklyn, N.Y., FBI agents seized boxes of medical supplies after they arrested a man now accused of hoarding and selling them at a 700% markup. It’s all part of a nationwide effort to stop price gouging on personal protective gear that’s desperately needed in our hospitals.
“Our goal is to get those masks out of the hands of the criminals, the wrong-doers, and get them into the hands of the doctors and the medical professionals, and the police officers who really truly need them,” Schneider told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo via a FaceTime interview on Wednesday. “We have a new federal statute right now that we are able to go in and prosecute, or more importantly grab that medical equipment, pay the person a fair market price and then get it out of the hands of the hoarder and get it into the hands of the medical professionals where we most need it right now.”
Schneider says his team of Assistant U.S. Attorneys in Detroit is ready to go after anyone trying to illegally profit off the coronavirus pandemic.
“The type of scams we are seeing across the country, it’s just despicable. Anything from people coughing on FBI agents and telling them that they have the virus when they don’t, or threatening to infect other people with the virus; taking advantage of the elderly, taking advantage of all types of people,” said Schneider.
Schneider says price gouging and hoarding are not the only problems the feds are seeing.
“We’re seeing assaults on federal officials. I know that we’ve got a problem with our Postal Service where we’re seeing more assaults right now on our mail carriers,” said Schneider.
Schneider says that’s prompted by some thinking the postal workers are delivering stimulus checks. He’s also concerned about prisoners getting released.
“We don’t want any prisoners to get the virus, but we also need to be extremely careful,” said Schneider. “When you get someone out of the prison system, they’re also going to go
back into the community, they will be near victims of crime, and they could be also exposing other people in the community. That’s something that should not be overlooked.”
This pandemic has hit home for Matthew Schneider: his parents were on the Grand Princess cruise ship that had a coronavirus outbreak, and his father tested positive for the virus.
“They went into quarantine on a military base in Georgia for 21 days,” said Schneider.
“This is a success story we can tell people: an 88-year-old very strong man, wonderful person, gets the virus, and now he’s feeling better… That should be an inspiration to all the folks who might be getting the virus, or who are worried about it. You can defeat this.”
Schneider says his parents are back home in Michigan now and doing well.
To report Price Gouging and Hoarding, Michigan residents are urged to contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at (866) 720-5721 or firstname.lastname@example.org or COVID-19 Fraud Coordinator/ Assistant United States Attorney John Neal, at (313) 226-9644.
Regarding assaults on postal workers, Postal Inspector Team Leader Andrew Brandsasse told us this: “The safety and well-being of Postal Service employees is a top priority for the Postal Inspection Service, the federal law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service. While we are taking a number of steps to safeguard our employees during these turbulent times, we are calling on postal customers to lend a hand. Keep an eye out for your letter carriers as they continue to fulfill their critical mission. If you see anything suspicious, please notify the Inspection Service immediately at 877-876-2455.
Additional Coronavirus information and resources:
Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Michigan, a timeline of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Southeast Michigan, and links to more information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and the WHO.
View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.
Find out how you can help metro Detroit restaurants struggling during the pandemic.
See all of our Helping Each Other stories.
See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.