FBI, U.S. Attorney to investigate hoarding of scarce supplies amid coronavirus pandemic

Those hoarding medical supplies face jail time, fines under federal executive order

The Justice Department is receiving reports of people hoarding needed medical supplies and selling them at excessive prices amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Michigan, officials said.

Related: Coronavirus in Michigan: Here’s where we stand today

In response to these reports, U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider and FBI Special Agent in Charge for Michigan Steve D’Antuono announced Wednesday a plan to investigate and prosecute hoarders of scarce medical supplies in the Eastern District of Michigan, officials said.

According to officials, hoarding and price gouging make it difficult for health care providers and first responders to obtain necessary medical supplies -- especially amid severe shortages of medical and protective equipment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Related: Donate: List of hospitals, medical providers in need of supplies during coronavirus outbreak

“We’re 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’re 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.”

Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order under the Defense Production Act prohibiting the hoarding of specific items, officials said.

According to officials, the order allows the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to designate particular items under the statute in an effort to protect medical supplies that are in low supply and high demand.

Officials say that once an item is designated, the order makes it a crime for a person to collect that item in excess of their reasonable needs or for the purpose of selling it in excess of current market prices. Any person violating this statute can face up to one year imprisonment and/or up to a $10,000 fine, officials said.

To identify potential cases, Shneider and D’Antuono will work together with the Secretary of HHS, the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and the Justice Department’s COVID-19 Price Gouging and Hoarding Task Force, officials said.

The Secretary of HHS has designated the following items as scarce under the statute:

1. N-95 Filtering Facepiece Respirators, including devices that are disposable half-face-piece non-powered air-purifying particulate respirators intended for use to cover the nose and mouth of the wearer to help reduce wearer exposure to pathogenic biological airborne particulates

2. Other Filtering Facepiece Respirators (e.g., those designated as N99, N100, R95, R99, R100, or P95, P99, P100), including single-use, disposable half-mask respiratory protective devices that cover the user’s airway (nose and mouth) and offer protection from particulate materials at an N95 filtration efficiency level per 42 CFR 84.181

3. Elastomeric, air-purifying respirators and appropriate particulate filters/cartridges

4. Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR)

5. Portable Ventilators, including portable devices intended to mechanically control or assist patient breathing by delivering a predetermined percentage of oxygen in the breathing gas

6. Drug products with active ingredient chloroquine phosphate or hydroxychloroquine HCl

7. Sterilization services for any device as defined in section 201(h) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and sterilizers as defined in 21 CFR 880.6860, 880.6870, and 880.6880, including devices that already have FDA marketing authorization and those that do not have FDA marketing authorization but are intended for the same uses

8. Disinfecting devices intended to kill pathogens and other kinds of microorganisms by chemical means or physical means, including those defined in 21 CFR 876.1500, 880.6992, and 892.1570 and other sanitizing and disinfecting products suitable for use in a clinical setting

9. Medical gowns or apparel, e.g., surgical gowns or isolation gowns

10. Personal protective equipment (PPE) coveralls, e.g., Tyvek Suits

11. PPE face masks, including any masks that cover the user’s nose and mouth and may or may not meet fluid barrier or filtration efficiency levels

12. PPE surgical masks, including masks that covers the user’s nose and mouth and provides a physical barrier to fluids and particulate materials

13. PPE face shields, including those defined at 21 CFR 878.4040 and those intended for the same purpose

14. PPE gloves or surgical gloves, including those defined at 21 CFR 880.6250 (exam gloves) and 878.4460 (surgical gloves) and such gloves intended for the same purposes

15. Ventilators, anesthesia gas machines modified for use as ventilators, and positive pressure breathing devices modified for use as ventilators (collectively referred to as “ventilators”), ventilator tubing connectors, and ventilator accessories as those terms are described in FDA’s March 2020 Enforcement Policy for Ventilators and Accessories and Other Respiratory Devices During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Public Health Emergency located at https://www.fda.gov/media/136318/download

Michigan residents can report price gouging and hoarding by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or by emailing disaster@leo.gov.

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