Two grocers from a Whitestone store were arrested and charged with price gouging on Friday, May 8, after they allegedly sold personal protective equipment to undercover detectives at an inflated price.
“Sadly, the outbreak of the coronavirus has inspired greed and manipulation,” Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said in a statement. “We are still in the midst of a crisis and people are still dying every day from COVID-19. We are actively seeking out individuals and businesses that would take advantage of people’s real fears during this pandemic to line their own pockets.”
According to the DA’s Office, Tae Kyong Kim, 49, and Jung Soo Lee, 61, were arrested after allegedly selling masks well over their listed prices, which the DA’s Office places at about $1 each.
According to the charges, an undercover detective visited Raspberry Farm, a grocery store located at 150-15 14 Ave. just past 8 a.m. and noticed several displays marketing a box of two KF94 face masks at $10. The detective, posing as a buyer, purchased the box for the displayed price.
Shortly after noon the same day, a second undercover detective visited the store and noticed 12 boxes of 10 KN95 masks marketed at $45 each. The officer purchased a single box at the displayed price — upon later investigation, police executed a court-authorized search warrant and allegedly recovered invoices showing that the managers paid $30 for each box.
Police allegedly recovered 24 boxes containing 10 KN95 masks, 31 boxes containing four disposable masks, 153 single packs of KF94 face masks and 67 dust-proof face masks. Additionally, police found 35 boxes containing 50 disposable face masks, which invoices show were purchased at $24 per box despite being allegedly sold by the defendants at $39.
Kim and Lee were both issued desk appearance tickets and ordered to appear in court on Sept. 4, where they will be formally charged with a New York City Administrative Code violation under the Department of Consumer and Worker’s Protection’s Emergency Price Gouging Rule, which declares it “an unconscionable trade practice to increase the price of essential goods and services during an imminent threat to public safety more than 10 percent above the price at which the same good could have previously been purchased by consumers 30 to 60 days prior to the March 15, 2020 rule.”
“The individuals charged in this case put profits over the health of their fellow New Yorkers by charging exorbitant fees for face masks that could save people’s lives,” said NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea. “These arrests should serve as a warning: the NYPD is vigilant in investigating those who prey on New Yorkers and attempt to financially benefit during the pandemic.”
Katz urges those who know of a business or individual inflating the price of PPE or other essential goods to notify her office at (718) 286-6673. The city has distributed over 7.5 million free face coverings for those in need at various locations, including parks, Department of Education Grab & Go meal sites, NYCHA buildings, some Mitchell-Lama buildings and grocery stores. For additional distribution dates, locations and times visit nyc.gov/facecoverings.