A Jersey Shore used car dealer tried to sell desperately-needed personal protective equipment to New York City officials at a 400% markup as part of a $45 million COVID-19 price-gouging scheme, federal authorities charged.
Ron Romano, 58, of Manalapan also tried to sell some of the same 3M-brand N95 masks to Florida emergency management officials at a nearly 500% markup during the pandemic’s height, they said Tuesday.
Romano not only wasn’t licensed to sell the masks – he didn’t have any, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said.
Romano, who owns Roman Chariot Auto Sales in Manalapan, “saw the current health emergency as an opportunity to cash in, using lies and deception in what he envisioned as a get-rich-quick scheme,” Berman said.
Romano “lied repeatedly about his authority and ability to sell large quantities of personal protective equipment” to city officials who were “trying to manage the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and obtain these resources to help protect the lives of hospital and other frontline workers,” the U.S. attorney said.
He also “offered to sell this phantom equipment to the city at grossly inflated prices," Berman added.
3M officials assisted special agents of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the NYPD in making the federal case, Berman said.
3M sued Romano's ad hoc company -- Performance Supply LLC of Manalapan – claiming it deceived the city by falsely representing authorization to sell the masks, which were in enormous demand worldwide.
City officials contacted 3M, verified that the company wasn’t certified, then alerted law enforcement.
Romano specifically is charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and violations of the Defense Production Act. He was scheduled for an appearance before a U.S. magistrate judge in Manhattan federal court Tuesday afternoon.
Berman, meanwhile, praised the special agents of the Southern District and the NYPD, while thanking 3M and the U.S. Justice Department’s COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force, led by U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Craig Carpenito.
Carpenito, he noted, is “is coordinating efforts with the Antitrust Division and U.S. attorneys across the country wherever illegal activity involving protective personal equipment occurs.”
ALSO SEE: New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were among the least prepared states in the U.S. for the coronavirus pandemic, a recent survey found.
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