Topline

Two Houston men have been indicted after they allegedly made a deal with a foreign government to sell 50 million N95 face masks, which they did not actually possess, at a rate far above the recommended price, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

Key Facts

Paschal Ngozi Eleanya, 46, and Arael Doolittle, 55, both expected to make up to $275 million as part of their scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.

Prosecutors said the two had made a $317 million deal with a foreign government for 50 million 3M model 1860 N95 respirator masks, and that the government had wired the funds to make the payment.

The payment was intercepted and stopped before it went through.

According to prosecutors, brokers for Elanya and Doolittle negotiated a price with the government that was five times higher than the 3M public list price.

What To Watch For

The two each face two counts of wire fraud and conspiracy. Each of the wire fraud counts carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, with up to five years for conspiracy. All of the charges could also come with a fine of up to $250,000, prosecutors said.

What We Don’t Know

Authorities didn’t reveal which foreign government agreed to the deal. It’s also not clear why they would have paid the exorbitant price. 

Key Background

Many countries are now experiencing their biggest coronavirus resurgence since the spring, but none more so than the United States. The daily average for new cases in the U.S. is nearly four times higher than any other country. Health experts have continually advised that wearing a face mask is one of the best and simplest ways to contain the spread of Covid. The N95 mask is generally regarded as top of the line in that regard.

Tangent

Authorities have thwarted several similar plans to sell nonexistent face masks, mostly in the spring. A notable bust came in April, when a Georgia man was accused of trying to sell the Department of Veterans Affairs 125 million face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment for over $750 million.

Further Reading

Fauci Endorses National Mask Mandate But Concedes It’s Unlikely Under Trump (Forbes)

DOJ charged man for $750 million scheme to sell non-existent face masks to VA (Axios)

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