Houston men accused of trying to sell non-existent masks to foreign government
HOUSTON - Two Houston-area men are accused of attempting to fraudulently sell 50 million N95 facemasks that they did not possess to a foreign government, defrauding them out of more than $317 million, U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick announced.
Paschal Ngozi Eleanya, 46, turned himself into authorities on Tuesday, and Arael Doolittle, 55, was taken into custody on November 20.
A federal grand jury returned the three-count indictment on November 19.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, the indictment alleges that the two men and their brokers negotiated a sales price for the masks that was five times the public list price that 3M had set.
MORE: Houston man arrested as ringleader behind global cyber scam
The indictment alleges the men defrauded the foreign government out of more than $317 million — the total purchase price of the masks. The two men allegedly expected to personally obtain up to $275 million through the scheme.
The foreign government allegedly wired the funds to complete the purchase, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but authorities disrupted the transaction before it was completed.
MORE: FTC reports surge of social media scams amid COVID-19 pandemic
The men face up to five years in prison for conspiracy and up to 20 years in prison for each of the two counts of wire fraud if convicted. Each of these charges also carry a possible $250,000 maximum fine.
The public is asked to report COVID-19 fraud, hoarding or price-gouging to the National Center for Disaster Fraud’s (NCDF) National Hotline at (866) 720-5721 or visit The Department of Justice’s NCDF website.