Law enforcement officials seized more than 1.7 million counterfeit face masks from a Long Island City warehouse earlier this week, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced on Thursday.
The manager of the warehouse, Zhi Zeng, a 33-year-old from Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, was taken into custody after investigators from the DA’s fraud bureau stormed the warehouse, located at 5-06 51st Ave., on Tuesday, Feb. 9.
Operators of the warehouse, which the DA described as “dirty and dusty,” allegedly purchased the masks from an international seller and then packaged them to appear to be N95 masks disturbed by 3M. The masks were then sold for around $2.95 to $3.25 a piece — nearly $2 more expensive than their suggested retail price — to individuals, organizations and health systems in the U.S., Katz said.
One health system in the south, which the DA would not identify, is believed to have purchased around 200,000 of the fake 3M masks for $700,000, and later distributed them to its health care workers.
The fraudulent masks’ effectiveness against preventing the spread of COVID-19 is currently being analyzed, according to the DA.
The warehouse operated as a shipping and receiving station as well as a packaging station, Katz said. Investigators found boxes, shipping labels and bar codes manipulated to look like they were built by 3M, in addition to the masks, which Katz said “look and feel like the real thing.”
The investigation into the warehouse began when the DA’s office received a tip from a member of the public and sent undercover investigators to purchase the masks. After purchasing the masks, the DA’s office contacted 3M, which confirmed the masks were counterfeit.
The investigation into the fake masks, which is being led by Katz’s office and federal law enforcement partners, including a section of the Department of Homeland Security, is ongoing.
Investigators are still trying to determine who the masks were sold to and if they are still in circulation. The warehouse’s employees are also under investigation.