A man from Houston, Texas pleaded guilty on Tuesday in connection to trying to sell 50 million N95 respirator masks that he did not own to an Australian state government, Reuters reported.
Prosecutors said Arael Doolittle, 56, and Paschal Eleanya tried to sell about three million masks to the New South Wales government in Australia, charging fivefold what the normal retail price is. The other masks were allegedly going to be given to representatives of the government and the duo’s "broker," Reuters reported.
The Department of Justice noted in a statement on Tuesday that officials broke up the business dealing before it was finalized.
Doolittle ultimately pleaded guilty to one charge of wire fraud conspiracy, the wire service noted. U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes accepted Doolittle’s plea, and set the sentencing for Oct. 25. Charges are pending for Eleanya, Reuters reported.
According to the Department of Justice, Doolittle will remain in custody pending the hearing and faces a possible fine of $250,000 maximum and as many as five years in a federal prison.
Doolittle’s lawyer, Kevin Cobb, declined to comment to The Hill.
Eleanya’s lawyer, Ali Fazel, said that his client was a “middleman or broker in a complicated transaction” and said that Eleanya “has always maintained his innocence.”
Eleanya “took many steps to ensure that all parties involved would fully receive the benefit of their bargain. Like all of us he was shocked when he heard of Mr. Doolittle’s other legal predicaments. We are working hard to demonstrate his conduct was above board and hope the Government will dismiss his charges,” Fazel said in an emailed statement to The Hill.
N95 mask producer 3M said that it was appreciative of the Justice Department’s move to track down individuals who were trying to take advantage of a recent demand for N95 masks, Reuters reported.