CHICAGO (CBS) — The owner of a north suburban medical supply company has been charged with taking advantage of customers trying to buy scarce personal protective equipment at the start of the pandemic, selling respirator masks at markups of 185% to 367%.
Krikor Topouzian, 60, of Winnetka, has been charged with one count of violating the Defense Production Act of 1950.
According to the charges, Topouzian used his company to purchase 79,160 respirator masks, including N95 masks, from two other companies between March 6 and April 7.
Federal prosecutors said he then sold approximately 39,160 of the masks through his company’s website and other online market places, almost exclusively to individual customers.
While he bought them at an average price of $5.08 each, he sold approximately 11,492 of them for prices of up to $19.95 for a single mask. According to court documents, Topouzian purchased the masks at prices ranging from $4.27 to $7 each, and sold them at an average price of approximately $16.82 per mask.
The feds said Topouzian was repeatedly warned about the illegal nature of his conduct.
“Amassing and reselling personal protective equipment at large markups during a global health crisis is not only greedy, it’s illegal under the Defense Production Act,” U.S. Attorney John Lausch said in a statement. “Our office is working tirelessly with our law enforcement partners to protect the public and hold individuals accountable for attempting to illegally profit from the sale of scarce protective equipment.”
The case is the result of a joint investigation by federal prosecutors, the FBI, and the Illinois Attorney General’s office.
“Today’s charges should send a strong message that we will not tolerate any attempt to take advantage of individuals and medical professionals in the midst of a global pandemic in order to selfishly profit from the sale of life-saving personal protective equipment,” Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in a statement.
The charges do not name Topouzian’s firm, but he is listed as the owner of Skokie-based Concord Health Supply.
Federal prosecutors said victims of COVID-19 fraud, hoarding, or price-gouging can contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud’s National Hotline via phone: (866) 720-5721, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.