The Newark case is one of a handful that federal prosecutors have brought over the past few weeks. In Austin, Texas, the F.B.I. shut down a website that promised consumers access to World Health Organization “vaccine kits” in exchange for a shipping charge of $4.95, payable by credit card. No vaccine for the virus exists.
In Georgia, F.B.I. agents arrested a 49-year-old man on charges of collecting kickbacks for Covid-19 tests and screenings for other respiratory illnesses in a scheme that aimed to submit $1.1 million in fraudulent Medicare claims. According to court documents, the man was upfront about his motives.
“Everybody has been chasing the Covid dollar bird,” he said in a telephone conversation, according to court papers. “While there are people going through what they are going through, you can either go bankrupt or you can prosper.”
That was apparently the view of another operator who promised a California union of nearly 100,000 health care workers that he could provide them 39 million N95 masks. But when health care providers like Kaiser Permanente sought to verify and inspect the man’s supply chain, he proved more and more elusive.
Last week, a federal prosecutor contacted the union, the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West, for details about the seller. “As far as we know, no money changed hands,” said Steve Trossman, a spokesman for the union, which was trying to serve as an intermediary to hospitals. “The really bad thing was, the masks were desperately needed.”
In Southern California, agents arrested a 53-year-old, small-time actor for seeking investments in a nonexistent company that he claimed was just days away from marketing pills that would ward off the virus and injections that would cure Covid-19. The authorities said his YouTube and Instagram videos, in which he displayed a syringe of clear liquid or nondescript white pills, had been viewed more than two million times.
A self-described genius entrepreneur, the man claimed in a text to a cooperating witness that a Los Angeles patient stricken by Covid-19 rose from a sickbed and “walked out 51 hours after my injection,” the authorities said. He claimed he knew a doctor with White House ties who was on his way to President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for an emergency order authorizing his drugs and promised a $300,000 investment in his company would yield a $30 million return.