Source: US State of California
LOS ANGELES – A Santa Monica day spa owner was charged today in federal court with accumulating N95 respirators in anticipation of the COVID-19 pandemic and then price gouging by selling the scarce masks at vastly inflated prices – sometimes nearly 1,100 percent over list price.
Niki Schwarz, 55, of Santa Monica, the owner of Tikkun Holistic Spa, was named in a criminal information charging her with one count of hoarding and price gouging. In a plea agreement also filed today, Schwarz agreed to plead guilty to the misdemeanor offense.
In the plea agreement, Schwarz admitted that in February she began accumulating N95 respirators in anticipation of a shortage that would be caused by a global pandemic resulting from the spread of the novel coronavirus. From the beginning of February until the end of June, Schwarz accumulated nearly 20,000 N95 masks that had been manufactured by 3M (list price ranging from $1.02 to $1.27) and Alpha Pro (list price of 86 cents).
In March, the United States government designated N95 respirators as “scarce materials” under the Defense Production Act of 1950 due to the overwhelming need of health care providers dealing with COVID-19 patients to use personal protective equipment.
Schwarz admitted that she obtained the N95 respirators for the purpose of reselling them at above-market rates, and that she sold the masks for up to $15 each.
Schwarz “accumulated and resold the masks at prices in excess of the prevailing market prices willfully, that is, with knowledge that masks had been designated as scarce materials and with knowledge that accumulation of the designated materials to resell in excess of prevailing market prices was unlawful,” according to the plea agreement.
On March 1, an associate informed Schwarz that the associate was going to stop selling N95 masks because she believed it was crime – and that price gouging could result in one year in prison – but Schwarz continued to sell the masks at inflated prices.
The hoarding and price gouging offense that Schwarz admits in the plea agreement carries a statutory maximum sentence of one year in federal prison.
Schwarz will receive a summons directing her to make an initial appearance in United States District Court, likely in early November.
This matter was investigated by the United States Postal Inspection Service.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jeff Mitchell of the Major Frauds Section, who is a regional coordinator of the Justice Department’s COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force.