Feb. 11, 2021 By Michael Dorgan
A Long Island City warehouse manager has been busted for trying to sell millions of fake N95 protective masks – at inflated prices – to unsuspecting members of the public and frontline workers.
Zhi Zeng, 33, was arrested Tuesday for running a massive counterfeit mask operation out of a “dirty” and “dusty” warehouse at 5-06 51st Ave., Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said at a virtual press briefing Thursday.
Zeng, from Brooklyn, was nabbed after selling some of the fake face coverings to undercover investigators who then raided the warehouse.
Investigators found nearly 1.8 million counterfeit N95 masks – packed into boxes – that were stacked to the ceiling on more than 100 shipping pallets.
“We believe this to be one of the largest single seizures of counterfeit masks since the pandemic began last year,” Katz said.
In one instance, 200,000 counterfeit masks were sold to an unnamed health care system–located in a southern U.S. state– and used by health care workers.
Zeng has been charged for selling the counterfeit goods and faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
A number of other warehouse workers are under investigation for participating in the scheme, Katz said.
Katz said the masks were professionally packaged to look like 3M manufactured N95 (model No. 1860) masks. The 3M logo was printed on the outside of the boxes and came with bar codes and lot numbers – which were deemed to be fake, Katz said.
Zeng, Katz said, was selling the counterfeit face coverings for as much as $3.25 each — while 3M said that the suggested retail price per mask is $1.27.
“The people who are responsible for this are individuals that let unmitigated greed for money blind them to the real value of these lifesaving masks,” Katz said.
“They were not just defrauding the public, they were sold to hospitals where healthcare workers put their lives on the line every day so that all of us can live.”
Katz said that investigators did not know the type of protection the counterfeit masks actually provided users.
Investigators believe the counterfeit masks may have been imported from overseas.
Hundreds of thousands of other PPE items – including brand-name hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes, children’s masks, construction masks, and gowns – were also found in the warehouse, Katz said.
Investigators are in the midst of determining whether these items are authentic or not.