CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WKRN) – A man in Tennessee was charged with wire fraud and money laundering in a COVID-19 PPE scheme.
According to a release from the United State’s Attorney’s Office Eastern District of Tennessee, 58-year-old David Michael Wright, Sr., of Hixon, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering on Monday.
According to court documents filed by the United States, from April to September of 2020, Wright came up with a scheme to defraud at least one victim. Wright and the victim began discussing investment opportunities which involved the purchase and resale of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to hospital and retailers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The documents state Wright claimed he had contacts with Chinese manufacturers to source the PPE products, he was importing those products from China and selling those products in the U.S. at a profit. This included KN95 masks.
In July of 2020, Wright emailed the victim with a fraudulent $49,700.00 invoice from an alleged Chinese manufacturer for the alleged purchase of 70,000 KN95 masks. Wright falsely claimed those masks could be purchased by the victim and resold to CHI Memorial Hospital for $210,000. That deal would result in a $140,000 profit for the victim.
Days later, the victim paid Wright the said $49,700.00 cash for the masks. Wright gave the victim a fake DHL tracking number for the ‘shipment’ from China. In August of 2020, Wright gave the victim a check for $210,000, representing the victim’s proceeds from the sale.
The release states Wright knew he didn’t have enough money to cover that check and CHI Memorial Hospital never agreed to the deal, and hadn’t given Wright any money.
Wright also learned of the victim’s connection to hand sanitizer manufacturer, Miramar Labs. Wright fraudulently represented that Publix Super Markets, Inc. was going to buy 40,000 bottles of hand sanitizer. Wright wired some of the money obtained in the fake KN95 scam to Miramar Labs to maintain that deception. The victim then paid the remaining amount. In total, Wright received about $80,500 as part of the fraudulent scheme.
Wright Sr. faces up to 30 years in prison on the wire fraud count and up to ten years in prison on the money laundering count, along with significant fines, restitution, and forfeiture of property. The investigation was conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Coronavirus Fraud Task Force.
If you have information regarding attempted fraud involving COVID-19, report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.
Wright is expected in court for sentencing on October 1, 2021 at 9 a.m. No other information was immediately released.