Man Pleads Guilty to Fraud After Attempting to Sell $65 Million of Non-Existent COVID PPE

A Georgia man has pleaded guilty in a multi-million COVID-19 scam involving personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Department of Justice announced Tuesday that Christopher Parris, a New York native who now lives in Lawrenceville, Georgia, faces 30 years in prison for wire fraud in connection to a presidentially-declared emergency.

Prosecutors say between February and April of last year, when the U.S. was experiencing a shortage of protective equipment amid the coronavirus outbreak, Parris offered to sell non-existent supplies to various medical companies and government entities.

The 41-year-old specifically offered to sell scarce 3M-brand N95 respirator masks that he pledged to secure through his Atlanta-based company Encore Health Group.

One target of the scheme was the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In March 2021, Parris contacted the agency offering to sell 125 million masks in an attempt to obtain an upfront payment of $3 million, according to the Justice Department.

In addition to attempting to defraud the VA, Parris told investigators that he acquired upfront payments from at least eight other clients for N95 masks. The payments totaled approximately $7.4 million and the proceeds of the scheme totaled $6.2 million.

In total, Parris sought orders in excess of $65 million for PPE equipment he had no way to access or obtain.

"Preying on companies and the Department of Veterans Affairs as they sought to protect their employees and patients from this pandemic is beyond the pale," acting U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips for the District of Columbia said in a statement. "The department and our law enforcement partners will catch and stop those who take advantage of public health emergencies to perpetrate such frauds."

Man Pleads Guilty Multi-Million COVID PPE Scam
A Georgia man has pleaded guilty in a multi-million COVID-19 scam involving personal protective equipment (PPE). In this photo, 3M-brand N95 particulate respirators are displayed on a table on July 28, 2020 in San Anselmo, California. JUSTIN SULLIVAN/Getty Images

Parris has also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud related to a Ponzi scheme. Prosecutors say Parris conspired with his business partner Perry Santillo to obtain money through investment fraud.

Between January 2012 and June 2018, Parris and his co-defendant Perry Santillo procured at least $115.5 million from approximately 1,000 investors. The two continue to owe investors approximately $70.7 million in principal.

"The fraud schemes at issue here, including the purported sales of personal protective equipment that the defendant could not actually provide, are particularly egregious," acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton of the Justice Department's Civil Division said in a statement.

As of March, the Justice Department had charged at least 474 people with criminal offenses based on fraud schemes related to the COVID-19 pandemic, The defendants attempted to obtain over $569 million from the U.S. government and individuals.

Newsweek reached out to the Justice Department for additional comment but didn't receive a response before publication.