A Long Island pharmacist is facing charges for alleged price gouging of personal protective equipment during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Federal officials charged Suffolk County resident Richard Schirripa - also known as “the Mask Man” - with violating the Defense Production Act by hoarding and price gouging N95 masks; making false statements to law enforcement; committing healthcare fraud; and committing aggravated identity theft.
Schirripa, of Fort Salonga, had been wanted and turned himself in to authorities on Tuesday, May 26.
Schirripa is accused of buying approximately $200,000 worth of N95 masks between February and April and selling thousands of them "at severely inflated prices during both late March and April," according to a criminal complaint that was unsealed this week.
“As alleged, Richard Schirripa exploited an unprecedented crisis to engage in profiteering,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said. “He allegedly spent over $200,000 accumulating N95 masks and then sold masks at inflated prices, charging customers up to 50 percent more than he had paid to acquire those N95 masks.”
While he was being investigated, Schirripa admitted to lawmakers that he was aware of the Defense Production Act, stating that “I feel like a drug dealer” at one point.
After being approached by law enforcement, Schirripa continued to add to his stockpile of masks, buying thousands more, eventually charging up to $25 for a mask that would cost a typical shopper $1.27.
In total, Schirripa made more than $50,000 in sales through the scheme.
Berman said that during a recorded call with an undercover agent investigating him, Schirripa said: “We’re in a time of emergency and shortage,” but added, “when you have something no one else has, it’s not a high price.”
In a text message on Thursday, April 2, Schirripa bragged to a potential customer that he “saw (the pandemic) coming” and the “good thing is no one has them.”
It is further alleged that in January and February, Schirripa falsely told the DEA that his Manhattan pharmacy was no longer under his control, though he was still in possession of thousands of controlled substances such as fentanyl, oxycodone, and oxymorphone.
The illegal substances were kept in a safe in Schirripa’s home, which were seized by agents in April.
Lastly, Schirripa billed Medicare and Medicaid for those pills, claiming they were for patients at his pharmacy, though the prescriptions were for himself at his Long Island home.
Schirripa, 66, was charged with violating the Defense Production Act, two counts of making false statements, healthcare fraud, and aggravated identity theft. If convicted, Schirripa faces up to 20 years in prison on the top charge.
“At this time when our nation is battling the COVID-19 pandemic and we expect that our healthcare professionals are standing in solidarity with us, the defendant, Richard Schirripa, a licensed pharmacist, allegedly sought to capitalize and profit from the suffering of others,” Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Peter Fitzhugh said. “As the pandemic was starting to take shape in March and April of 2020, Schirripa allegedly began hoarding desperately needed Personal Protection Equipment.”
He added: “As demand for the PPE was peaking, he then purportedly took the opportunity to sell the hoarded PPE at prices as much as 50 percent above his acquisition costs.”
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