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Feds bust two fraudsters in coronavirus price-gouging schemes

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A New Jersey used car salesman and an allegedly corrupt New York City pharmacist dubbed “the Mask Man” were arrested in separate coronavirus price-gouging and fraud schemes, federal authorities said Tuesday.

In the first bust, car salesman Ronald Romano attempted to sell New York City about $45 million worth of personal protective equipment for front-line workers — including N95 masks — that he didn’t even have, prosecutors said.

As Romano and his co-conspirators tried to close the deal, they allegedly made false statements and offered fake references to show they could provide the gear that was supposedly manufactured in the United States.

As part of the ruse, Romano said he had previously sold protective equipment to a state agency in Florida — a sale that had never taken place, according to prosecutors, who said he listed a co-conspirator as a reference on the paperwork he submitted to the city of New York.

“I’m working on a few deals that if I get any of them you might be buying a Ferrari,” he allegedly told his co-conspirator in a message during the scheme.

Romano was busted when skeptical city employees called the supposed manufacturer and unraveled the lie. He was hit with conspiring to commit wire fraud and one count of wire fraud charges.

“Ronald Romano’s short-lived second career as a purveyor of vital protective gear is over,” US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement Tuesday.



Surveillence image of retail pharmacist Schirripa.
Surveillance image of retail pharmacist Richard SchirripaUS District
Court – Eastern Dist

In the second bust, licensed pharmacist Richard Schirripa spent about $200,000 on N95 masks and sold some of them at an enormous markup to undercover agents on the Upper East Side.

“I feel like a drug dealer,” Schirripa allegedly told the agents while making the deal from his car.

In an interview with federal authorities, Schirripa said he’d been given the name the “Mask Man” after he started stockpiling the protective gear when the coronavirus first hit China.

In a recorded call with an undercover agent, he boasted about price-gouging, saying: “When you have something no one else has, it’s not a high price.”

Schirripa also allegedly used his pharmacy business to fill prescriptions for drugs that he took to his home in Long Island.

He was hit with a slew of charges including making false statements to law enforcement, health care fraud, and aggravated identity theft.

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