A used-car dealer accused of trying to get New York City to pay a 400% markup on millions of respirator masks he didn’t actually have has become the latest target of a federal crackdown on pandemic profiteering.
Ronald Romano, 58, of Manalapan, New Jersey, tried to charge city officials more than $45 million for the masks, falsely claiming he was an authorized dealer of 3M Co. protective equipment, federal prosecutors said.
“Romano saw the current health emergency as an opportunity to cash in, using lies and deception in what he envisioned as a get-rich-quick scheme,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement. “Now Ronald Romano’s short-lived second career as a purveyor of vital protective gear is over.”
Romano is charged with wire fraud and conspiracy and faces as many as 30 years in prison. He appeared via video conference before a magistrate judge in Manhattan on Tuesday and was released on a $200,000 bond. His attorney, Mark Macron, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Separately, Manhattan prosecutors on Tuesday announced the arrest of a New York pharmacist who spent more than $200,000 acquiring respirator masks and then sold them at more than 50% markups. The U.S. Justice Department set up a task force to combat price gouging and hoarding related to coronavirus.
Romano started attempting to acquire large quantities of personal protective equipment in February, including the N95 respirator masks made by 3M, according to prosecutors. He created a fake letter indicating that his company was authorized to sell millions of the masks, authorities said.
In mid-March, as the virus was spreading in New York, representatives of Romano’s company approached the city with an offer to supply 7 million respirators, prosecutors said. To bolster his sales pitch, Romano sent municipal authorities a fake contract purporting to show he’d completed a $5.6 million order for masks by the Florida Division of Emergency Management, authorities said.
3M filed a lawsuit against Romano’s company, Performance Supply LLC, in federal court in Manhattan last month alleging it had falsely claimed to be an authorized 3M distributor and improperly used 3M logos. Performance Supply was ordered by the court to refrain from using the trademarks. 3M filed suits in other states against companies offering its N95 masks at inflated prices to government entities during the Covid-19 crisis.
“Although we cannot comment on an active criminal investigation, we are supporting law enforcement officials across the country, and the world, in their efforts to combat fraudulent activity and price gouging,” Ivan Fong, vice president, general counsel and secretary for 3M, said in a statement.