Essex County Man Charged in Scheme to Fraudulently Obtain More Than $4 Million from Government Programs
NEWARK, N.J. – A Chinese manufacturer was charged today with producing and exporting to the United States in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic over 140,000 misbranded and defective masks that falsely purported to be KN95 respirators, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.
Crawford Technology Group (HK) Co. LTD. (Crawford) is charged by complaint with violating the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) for causing misbranded and substandard respirators that falsely purported to meet various filtration efficiency standards to be imported into the United States.
“Defective and misbranded personal protection equipment is a danger to all who unwittingly purchase and use it,” U.S. Attorney Carpenito said. “The Department of Justice and our partners remain committed to finding the unscrupulous companies that sell dangerous gear and stopping them from further endangering health care workers and first responders.”
“It is not enough that this pandemic has upended lives around the world and caused countless suffering and hundreds of thousands of deaths,” Jason Molina, Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Newark, said. “In the midst of that, we have companies like this that exploited this tragedy for financial gain and in the process put millions of lives at risk. This case is a good reminder that the combined efforts of the agencies involved in Attorney General Barr’s Task Force have a very long reach to track and charge those who commit such wrongdoing. In addition, for HSI this fulfills the mission of Operation Stolen Promise to rout out COVID related fraud in all its many forms.”
Attorney General William P. Barr created the COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force, led by U.S. Attorney Carpenito, who is coordinating efforts with the Antitrust Division and U.S. Attorneys across the country wherever illegal activity involving protective personal equipment occurs. The Secretary of Health and Human Services has issued a notice designating categories of health and medical supplies that must not be hoarded or sold for exorbitant prices.
“In a time when the United States Postal Service is playing such a critical role in the nation’s supply chain, the United States Postal Inspectors will be ever vigilant in our pursuit of criminals using the mail to commit fraud schemes,” U.S. Postal Inspection Service Inspector in Charge James Buthorn said. “We will not stand by and allow American citizens to be preyed upon and are proud to stand with our partners defending the public as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Congratulation to the inspectors, special agents, and prosecutors.”
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection is proud of the expertise we bring to support and assist investigations that result in the seizure of illicit products,” Troy Miller, Director New York Field Office, said. “It is through interagency partnerships and collaborative efforts, like the one leading to today’s criminal charges, that law enforcement successfully combats today’s criminal organizations.”
“The FDA is actively monitoring the marketplace for fraudulent products related to our battle against COVID-19 that are marketed and distributed to Americans. The agency will continue to collaborate with our fellow law enforcement partners to bring to justice those who place profits above the public health during this pandemic,” Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey J. Ebersole, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations New York Field Office, said. “We will take appropriate action against those who jeopardize the health of Americans and take advantage of a crisis.”
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
In May 2020, Crawford, a digital electronics company based in Shenzhen, China, manufactured and sold 140,400 adulterated and misbranded KN95 filtering face piece respirators to Company-1 for import into the United States.
The packaging for the respirators, as well as the respirators themselves, falsely indicated that they were 95 percent efficient at filtering harmful airborne particles. The respirators and their packaging also claimed that they complied with established standards in the European Union and China, which require at least 94 percent or 95 percent filtering efficiency, respectively. Crawford also advertised the respirators on its website under a tab labeled “epidemic” and claimed that their respirators have “4 layers of protection” and “Passed the national standard 2626-2000 test.” The page also says “KN95 Filtration reaches 95%,” “KN95 Filter Effect 95%,” and states that their respirators protect against “Severe Haze,” “Bacteria,” and “Dust.” These claims were false and misleading because the average filtering efficiency for the Crawford respirators was 22.33 percent, far below the required thresholds.
U.S. Attorney Carpenito thanked the staff of the NIOSH National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, under the direction of NIOSH Director John Howard M.D., and special agents of the U.S. Secret Service for their work on the investigation.
The charge in the complaint carries a maximum fine of $200,000.
Please report COVID-19 fraud, hoarding or price-gouging to the National Center for Disaster Fraud’s National Hotline at (866) 720-5721, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information on the NIOSH Covid-19 Respirator Assessment program and the results of other NIOSH respirator tests can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/respirators/testing/NonNIOSHresults.html
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Peck of the Asset Recovery and Money Laundering Unit.
The charges in the complaint are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.