Law enforcement officers are now reporting cases of people coughing on them and claiming to have coronavirus in attempts to derail arrests and investigations.
On March 29th, FBI agents were in the process of arresting Baruch Feldheim at his Brooklyn home on charges of price-gouging on sales of N95 masks and other medical supplies when he coughed in the direction of the nearby agents and said he had the coronavirus, the U.S. Attorney's office in Newark said in a release Monday.
Feldheim, 43, went on to tell the FBI agents that he's just a salesman for a medical supply company rather than the owner, and that he never took custody of the supplies, prosecutors allege.
FBI agents nevertheless arrested Feldheim and charged him with assaulting a federal officer and with making false statements to law enforcement. He faces up to five years in prison and fines of up to $350,000.
Feldheim had been reported for alleged price gouging after a New Jersey doctor discovered his company Solo Supplies, Inc. in a Whatsapp group called Virus2020!
In early March, the doctor, who runs a practice of 106 employees in multiple locations, arranged to buy from Feldheim 1,000 N95 masks -- the hospital-grade protective filtering masks that are in short supply across the country -- 2,000 surgical masks, 2,000 sterile gowns, and 800 Hazmat gowns for $12,000, "an approximately 700 percent markup from the normal price charged for those materials," the U.S. Attorney's office said.
The doctor was told to pick up the order from a body shop in Irvington, New Jersey on March 18th, where he saw "enough materials, including hand sanitizers, Clorox wipes, chemical cleaning supply agents, and surgical supplies, to outfit an entire hospital," according to the release. Feldheim later told the doctor that he had to move his supplies out of the Irvington body shop because of complaints from neighbors about vehicle traffic.
On March 23rd, Feldheim allegedly offered to sell a traveling nurse some surgical gowns out of his Brooklyn home. On March 25th, prosecutors say Feldheim received a shipment from Canada with about eight pallets of medical facemasks.
The same day, the federal Department of Health and Human Services "issued an executive order designating certain scarce health and medical resources necessary to respond to the spread of the Coronavirus. Those designated materials included N95 filtering face-piece respirators, personal protection equipment (PPE) face masks, surgical masks, sterilization services, and disinfecting devices, among other things," the U.S. Attorney's release said.
Price gouging of these items was already illegal in New York after Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a State of Emergency on March 7th.
On March 29th, "FBI agents witnessed multiple instances during which individuals approached Feldheim’s residence and walked away with boxes or bags that appeared to contain medical supplies," the U.S. Attorney's office said. "On that date, FBI agents approached Feldheim outside of his residence. After identifying themselves as FBI agents, they told Feldheim that they wanted to stay a distance away from him given concerns over the spread of Coronavirus."
"When the agents were within four to five feet of him, Feldheim allegedly coughed in their direction without covering his mouth. The agents then told him that they were looking for certain PPE materials and that they had information that Feldheim was in possession of large quantities of such materials. At that point, Feldheim told the FBI agents that that he had the Coronavirus," the U.S. Attorney's office said.
The New York Post reported that after Feldheim's arrest, "the FBI on Monday night raided a warehouse on Pennsylvania Avenue in an industrial section of Linden, NJ, that housed Feldheim’s suspected stash of 80,000 masks, a source said."
An inquiry to the U.S. Attorney's office on whether Feldheim actually has coronavirus was not immediately answered Tuesday.
Law enforcement have been on alert for these stunts -- last week, Deputy U.S. attorney general Jeffrey Rosen sent a memo to law enforcement officials and federal prosecutors warning them to be on the lookout for threats to spread the coronavirus. “You may encounter criminal activity ranging from malicious hoaxes to threats targeting specific individuals or the general public, to the purposeful exposure and infection of others with COVID-19,” he wrote.