PLAINVIEW, NY — A Woodbury man charged in federal court with price-gouging of scarce personal protective equipment at his Plainview store has agreed to donate over $450,000 in PPE to hospitals, health care providers, first responders and other essential workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
A retail store operated by Amardeep Singh, 45, who also goes by "Bobby Singh" and "Bobby Sidana," began stockpiling in mid-March vital PPE at WLC Warehouse Liquidation Center, and a nearby warehouse in Brentwood, authorities said. The store sells sneakers and clothes. At the time, Singh set aside part of the store for so-called "COVID-19 Essentials" that he sold at inflated prices, prosecutors said. Items included N-95 filtering face piece respirators, face masks, surgical masks, face shields, gloves, coveralls, medical gowns and clinical-grade sanitizing and disinfecting products.
In April, Singh was charged with violating the Defense Production Act of 1950. He will donate PPE under the terms of his deferred prosecution agreement with the government, authorities announced Friday.
Seth DuCharme, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said Singh accepted responsibility for what DuCharme called "taking advantage of a public health emergency for personal profit."
"Today’s deferred prosecution agreement is a victory for heroic healthcare workers and first-responders who will benefit from the personal protective equipment relinquished by the defendant in their continuing battle against the COVID-19 virus," DuCharme said.
Philip Bartlett, inspector-in-charge at the New York division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, said Singh "took advantage of being the 'only game in town' with PPE during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, by jacking up the prices on life-saving equipment needed by first responders, medical personnel and the general public."
"Singh held himself out as a local hero, but we now know this was totally untrue," Bartlett said.
March 18 — President Donald Trump issues executive order invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950. The act outlaws the practice of acquiring medical supplies and devices designated by the Secretary of Health and Human Services as scarce in order to hoard or sell them at inflated prices.
April 14 — Postal inspectors search Singh's retail store and warehouse. They seize 23 pallets containing more than 100,000 face masks, 10,000 surgical gowns, nearly 2,500 full-body isolation suits and more than 500,000 pairs of disposable gloves.
April 24 — Singh becomes the first person in the nation charged with violating the act. Authorities said he had 40 shipments of disposable face masks weighing more than 1.6 tons, 14 shipments of disposable surgical gowns weighing more than 2.2 tons, six shipments of hand sanitizer weighing more than 1.8 tons and seven shipments of digital thermometers weighing approximately 253 pounds. Singh sold the items at inflated prices.
Sept. 25 — Singh agrees to donate $450,000 in PPE to those on the front lines.
As Patch previously reported, the Nassau County Department of Consumer Affairs pursued and issued price-gouging violations to Singh "to the staggering tune of $183,650 since March 18th," Laura Curran, the Nassau County executive, said in April.
"It is simply unconscionable for anyone to prey on consumers during a unprecedented pandemic, especially as Nassau County leads the nation in confirmed coronavirus cases and fatalities outside of New York City," Curran said at the time. "Price gouging is and remains illegal and Nassau County will continue to exercise its authority to prosecute any businesses that engages in this exploitative practice."
Singh had faced up to a year in prison if convicted on the charge. In reviews posted at the time on Google, two users complained within the last week of overpriced masks and even bogus products.
One reviewer said: "Everything is overpriced. Blue mask pack of 50 for $50. It's crazy during these hard times."
In response, the owner said everyone is selling the same face masks for $1.50 to $2.25 each and that "we have kept the same price even though our cost from the back end has gone up tremendously."
"We apologize that you felt it was overpriced, we hope to see you again for other shopping needs," the owner said.
A second reviewer complained the retailer was selling fake products.
"Foremost, consumers should know that Tide is NOT sold in 5-gallon buckets to consumers. The 5-gallon product is fake says Procter & Gamble Senior Communications Manager, Anne Candido. Consumers are getting mostly water according to P&G lab tests with cleaning results similar to just washing in water. Not to mention price gauging for hand sanitizer $9 for an 8oz bottle."
In response to that review, the owner rebutted saying Tide makes a 5-gallon bucket and has been "making them for years."
"Maybe you never bought one," the owner said. "That doesn't make them fake!"
The store said it spoke to Procter & Gamble and its distributor and verified the product was authentic.
"So before you post something publicly and try to bring down a small business think twice," the owner wrote.