Mississippi businessman indicted in scheme to hoard virus protection gear

Published 9:31 pm Wednesday, January 27, 2021

A Mississippi businessman has been indicted in a $1.8 million scheme to hoard personal protective equipment amid the pandemic and price gouging health care providers in critical need of the same.

Kenneth Bryan Ritchey, 57, of Ocean Springs, the owner of a pharmaceutical wholesale company, was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit hoarding of designated scarce materials and hoarding of designated scarce materials, federal prosecutors said Wednesday. It was unknown if he’s represented by an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

The indictment alleges that after the first U.S.-confirmed case of COVID-19, Ritchey participated in a scheme to defraud health care providers, including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, of more than $1.8 million by acquiring PPE and other designated materials from all possible sources, including home improvement stores and online retailers, and ultimately hoarding the same.

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The indictment also alleges that due to nationwide PPE shortages and COVID-19-related fears, Ritchey directed sales representatives to solicit health care providers to buy PPE and other designated materials at excessively inflated prices through high-pressure sales tactics and through misrepresenting sourcing and actual costs.

For instance, the indictment alleges that Ritchey sold N-95 masks to the VA and other health care providers for as much as $25 per mask, despite acquiring such masks at much lower prices.