Man Who Sold N95 Masks to VA for $25 Each Charged with Price Gouging

An airman adjusts the straps to his N95 mask.
An airman adjusts the straps to his N95 mask to begin a fit test at Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait, March 13, 2020. (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Alexandre Montes)

An Ocean Springs, Mississippi, businessman has been charged with trying to defraud the U.S. government after he stockpiled personal protective equipment and tried to sell it at "excessively inflated prices" to health care providers, including the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Justice Department has charged Kenneth Ritchey, 57, with conspiracy to defraud the U.S., conspiracy to commit hoarding of scarce materials, hoarding and other charges in relation to a scheme to acquire personal protective equipment, or PPE, to sell to health care providers.

According to the indictment, Ritchey acquired PPE gear used by health care providers to protect against COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, shortly after the first case of the coronavirus appeared in the U.S.

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He shopped at "all possible sources," including home improvement stores and online retailers to build a stockpile and then used "high-pressure sales tactics" to sell the equipment to health providers, to the tune of $1.8 million, according to DOJ officials.

He allegedly sold N95 masks to the VA for as much as $25 each, officials said.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Jackson Field Office, as well as the VA Office of Inspector General and Homeland Security Investigations.

DOJ officials stressed that the charges do not equate to guilt, and Ritchey is presumed innocent until he is convicted of wrongdoing.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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