An investigation by the Queens district attorney led to the seizure of 1.7 million counterfeit 3M N95 respirator masks from a Long Island City warehouse before they could be distributed to the public, DA Melinda Katz announced last Thursday.
Zhi Zeng, 33, of Dyker Heights, Brooklyn was arrested and charged with one count of trademark counterfeiting, a class C felony, for possessing and selling the fake-labeled medical masks.
Zeng was arraigned Wednesday morning before Queens Criminal Court Judge Eugene Guarino. He was ordered to return to court on April 27 and if convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
According to the charges, Zeng is the warehouse manager and was present at the 51st Avenue facility when law enforcement raided it and discovered pallets piled high with boxes of 3M-labeled N95 masks — model No. 1860. The building had two floors, roughly 2,000 square feet per floor, and both levels contained stacks and stacks of the boxes.
A total of 1,788,340 masks were seized.
Hundreds of thousands of pieces of other types of personal protective equipment, including brand-name hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes, children’s masks, construction masks and gowns, were also found in the warehouse. Investigators have begun working with companies to determine the authenticity of those products.
Katz said the investigation, which is ongoing, began when her office received information that suspected counterfeit masks were being offered for sale from the warehouse located at 5-06 51 Ave. Investigators posed as undercover buyers and purchased masks on several dates to check their authenticity. The masks were being offered for sale at prices ranging from $2.95 to $3.25 apiece. According to 3M, the suggested retail price for N95 respirators is $1.27.
“We are living in a horrible pandemic with more than 450,000 Americans dead from Covid-19,” Katz said. “This defendant allegedly sold false hope and security and was set to sell more of these counterfeit masks to whomever would pay his price. Masks are life-saving equipment for our medical professionals. Every day these essential workers are putting their lives — and their family’s lives — at risk providing healthcare to those affected by this heartless disease. We have confiscated the bogus merchandise and none of these unsafe masks will be distributed to the public or healthcare workers going forward.”
Investigators have identified a healthcare system in the southern part of the country that bought 200,000 of the same masks from the same warehouse for more than $700,000. The DA’s Frauds Bureau has reached out to law enforcement partners to determine if any other medical facilities were conned into buying the masks.