Authorities this week seized from a warehouse in Texas more than $600,000 worth of counterfeit N95 surgical masks intended for hospital workers on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers intercepted the shipment of 100,090 fake 3M N95 surgical masks Monday at Ysleta Cargo Facility, according to a press statement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
The masks were reportedly in-transit from El Paso to a hospital on the East Coast.
“The seizure of these counterfeit surgical masks not only ensures the health and safety of our frontline health care workers by preventing them from receiving inferior personal protective equipment, it also protects the integrity of the American economy,” said Erik P. Breitzke, acting special agent in charge of ICE HSI El Paso. “We will continue to aggressively investigate, arrest and prosecute criminal counterfeiters who show a total disregard for human life and take advantage of a relentless world pandemic for economic gain.”
The N95 masks have been highly sought after since the onset of the pandemic when health care workers around the world scrambled to get personal protective equipment (PPE) to use while caring for sick patients.
ICE and CBP have been investigating illegal schemes associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, like the illegal import and sale of counterfeit PPE, since April. The mission, dubbed Operation Stolen Promise, has led to 187 criminal arrests and more than $29 million in assets seized, according to ICE.
In September, CBP officials intercepted more than 20,000 counterfeit N95 masks in Boston after targeting a "suspicious shipment arriving from Hong Kong."
The shortages of PPE still exist across past of the United States and the world as countries compete for access to the same products, most of which are manufactured in China.