’The worst of the worst’: Massive counterfeit N95 mask operation busted in Queens warehouse
Taken from The New York Daily News
February 11, 2021
A Queens warehouse manager was busted after investigators discovered his building was filled with millions of counterfeit N95 masks, prosecutors said Thursday.
The large-scale fraud — which a Department of Homeland Security official said ranked up with the “worst of the worst” of the country’s many personal protective equipment scams during the coronavirus pandemic — unfolded in a nondescript warehouse in Long Island City run by Zhi Zeng, 34.
One unnamed Southern health care system coughed up more than $700,000 for the bogus masks, meaning that frontline hospital workers were wearing the counterfeit face coverings, prosecutors said.
Inside the low-slung, brick building, boxes bearing the real company 3M’s name were stacked high to the ceiling, with more than 1 million of the masks packaged and ready to go, prosecutors said.
“They look like the real thing, they feel like the real thing,” said Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz at a virtual press conference Thursday. “The only way to find out that they were relying on these no-protection-at-all boxed up masks … was through this investigation.”
Relying on a confidential tip and using three undercover officers who posed as buyers, prosecutors were able to divert 1.7 million counterfeit masks from getting into the hands of unsuspecting brands, Katz said.
They took down the counterfeiting scheme earlier this month, charging Zeng with trademark counterfeiting. He was released Wednesday without bail in the case.
The operation at the warehouse was professional: the masks looked like 3M masks and were boxed in 3M packaging, with little 3M information slips packed in.
But bar codes and lot numbers, which accompany 3M packaging, were fraudulent, Katz said.
It was not immediately clear if the masks provided any protection at all.
“We are analyzing the masks now to see whether or not they provide any protection or all the protection,” Katz said.
The investigation is ongoing and more people who worked at the warehouse could face charges, prosecutors said.
Authorities are investigating where the masks were manufactured.
A lawyer for Zeng declined to comment.