This December 2020, image provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) shows Homeland Security Investigations El Paso members and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers working during a seizure of counterfeit N95 surgical masks at an El Paso Port cargo facility in El Paso, Texas.
ICE via AP
The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday announced that it seized more than 11 million counterfeit 3M N95 respirator masks that were destined for frontline health-care workers.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said at a press conference that the seizures were made over the last few weeks, including hundreds of thousands of masks discovered in an east coast warehouse during raids earlier Wednesday.
Mayorkas said Homeland Security agents have been investigating cases and already served search warrants in five states across the U.S. over the past two weeks. More raids, he said, are expected over the next few weeks.
The raids were conducted as part of Operation Stolen Promise, which was launched in April by Homeland Security and partners across government and the private sector to investigate Covid-19-related fraud.
“We are at a vulnerable time, of course, with the pandemic costing so many lives and causing so much harm,” Mayorkas said. “And that individuals, criminals exploit our vulnerabilities for a quick buck is something that we will continue to aggressively pursue.”
Mayorkas noted that the initial leads on the investigation came from 3M, which reported that suspected counterfeit masks were being purchased for health-care workers and first responders.
“This collaboration has helped prevent millions of counterfeit respirators from reaching frontline workers,” Kevin Rhodes, 3M Deputy General Counsel, said in a statement. “We are committed to fighting the pandemic from all angles – manufacturing needed PPE, working to prevent counterfeiting, and helping ensure N95s get to where they are needed the most.”
DHS officials declined to identify where the raids occurred, saying that they cannot comment on an ongoing investigation. Criminal charges are forthcoming, they said. DHS said they have notified about 6,000 suspected victims of the fraud in at least 12 states, including hospitals, medical facilities and others who may have purchased medical masks from what Mayorkas described as a “criminal enterprise.”