Individual Indicted For Price Gouging
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The United States Attorney’s Office, District of Puerto Rico filed an Information charging Tonatiuh Antonio Leal-Matos with two counts of violating the Defense Production Act (50 U.S.C. § 4512) in relation to price gouging personal protective equipment (“PPE”), face masks and disinfecting wipes, during the COVID-19 national public health emergency, announced W. Stephen Muldrow, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is in charge of the investigation.
According to the Government’s allegations, from approximately April to July 2020, Tonatiuh Antonio Leal-Matos sold PPE face masks and disinfecting wipes at a substantial markup and at prices in excess of the prevailing market price. Leal-Matos operated the online Facebook profiles “Pide Que Hay”, “COVID Plaza”, “Miami Collection PR”, and “Club Gafas” which were used to advertise and sell PPE. The defendant accumulated over 5,000 face masks that covered the user’s nose and mouth. Some of the face masks that the defendant accumulated offered protection from particulate materials at an N95 filtration efficiency level while others did not. The defendant sold the masks that he acquired for between $10 and $35 per mask; these sales prices were at least two times his acquisition cost.
Tonatiuh Antonio Leal-Matos also sold most of the clinical grade disinfecting wipes he accumulated in several transactions. The defendant purchased containers of clinical grade disinfecting wipes for $6.95 per container and subsequently sold those disinfecting wipes for approximately $39 per container, at an approximately 461% markup. The manufacturer’s price for each container was approximately $6.75 to $8.45.
“The defendant knew that the price he charged for face masks and disinfecting wipes exceeded prevailing market prices. He saw the devastating COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to make illegal profits on needed PPEs,” said U.S. Attorney Muldrow. “Federal and State law enforcement authorities will continue to intervene whenever profiteers and scammers break the law by capitalizing on the public’s fear to enrich themselves.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Marie Christine Amy of the Financial Fraud and Corruption Unit is in charge of the prosecution of the case. If convicted of both counts, the defendant faces up to two (2) years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $20,000.
The U.S. Department of Justice created the COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force, led by Rachael A. Honig, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, who is coordinating efforts with the Antitrust Division and U.S. Attorneys across the country wherever illegal activity involving protective personal equipment occurs.
To learn more about the department’s COVID response, visit: https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus. For further information on the Criminal Division’s enforcement efforts on CARES Act fraud, including court documents from significant cases, visit the following website: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/cares-act-fraud. For further information on the Civil Division’s enforcement efforts, visit the following website: https://www.justice.gov/civil.
To report a COVID-19-related fraud scheme or suspicious activity, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) by calling the NCDF Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
An information contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty.
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