Christopher Parris, a 39-year-old Atlanta, Georgia resident, was arrested last week and charged in federal court in the District of Columbia with fraud for attempting to sell millions of nonexistent respirator masks to the Department of Veterans Affairs in exchange for large upfront payments, the Justice Department announced.
The criminal complaint charges Parris with wire fraud. It alleges that he made and caused to be made a series of fraudulent misrepresentations in an attempt to secure orders from the Department of Veterans Affairs for 125 million face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) that would have totaled over $750 million. For example, the complaint alleges that Parris promised that he could obtain millions of genuine 3M masks from domestic factories when he knew that fulfilling the orders would not be possible. Parris also allegedly made similar false representations to other entities in an effort to enter into other fraudulent agreements to sell PPE to state governments.
“We will vigorously pursue fraudsters who exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to make money,” said Attorney General William Barr. “As this case demonstrates, even beyond the typical costs associated with unlawful behavior, COVID-19 scams divert government time and resources and risk preventing front-line responders and consumers from obtaining the equipment they need to combat this pandemic. The Department of Justice will not tolerate this conduct, especially when it involves this kind of egregious attempt to target and defraud our nation’s treasures – our veterans.”
After arrest, Parris appeared before Chief United States Magistrate Judge Alan J. Baverman in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, where he was ordered detained. Parris will be extradited to the District of Columbia.
“During this time of crisis, fraud or attempted fraud impacting services for veterans, who have selflessly served this country, is unconscionable,” said U.S. Attorney Timothy Shea for the District of Columbia. “My office will devote whatever resources are necessary to stop scams aimed at exploiting Americans during this unprecedented pandemic.”
“We are committed to protecting the integrity of taxpayer funds and ensuring the delivery of medical supplies necessary to provide quality healthcare to our nation’s veterans, and any attempt to exploit the current global COVID-19 pandemic for personal gain will be dealt with swiftly,” said Inspector General Michael J. Missal for the Department of Veterans Affairs. “Today’s charges are the direct result of the expeditious and tireless efforts of special agents of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General, working in tandem with our law enforcement partners at the Department of Justice and Homeland Security Investigations.”
“Homeland Security Investigations special agents have sworn an oath to protect the American public, particularly during this health crisis, from opportunistic individuals who seek to deliberately harm and deceive others for their own profit,” said Special Agent in Charge Jere T. Miles, Homeland Security Investigations – New Orleans. “Today, our special agents have shown their commitment to that promise.”
A criminal complaint is an accusation by a federal law enforcement agent, and defendants are entitled to the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty. Upon conviction for the wire fraud charge, the maximum statutory penalty is 20 years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
The Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of the Inspector General and Homeland Security Investigations investigated the case. Trial Attorney Patrick Runkle of the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Peter Lallas and Zia Faruqui of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia are prosecuting the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Prout and Theodore S. Hertzberg of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia provided substantial assistance.
Information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts may be found at http://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. For more information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, visit its website at https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc.
The public is urged to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 (the Coronavirus) by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or by e-mailing the NCDF at email@example.com.