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April 13, 2020New Orleans, LA, United StatesCOVID-19, Financial Crimes

ICE HSI investigates, arrests Georgia man in multi-million COVID-19 fraud scam

NEW ORLEANS – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents arrested a Georgia resident April 10 after he attempted to sell millions of nonexistent respirator masks to the Department of Veterans Affairs, in exchange for large upfront payments.

The case was investigated jointly by HSI New Orleans’ Baton Rouge office and the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General. HSI Atlanta special agents assisting HSI New Orleans and the VA made the arrest.

Christopher Parris, 39, was arrested on wire fraud criminal complaint charges. It alleges that he made and caused to be made a series of fraudulent misrepresentations in an attempt to secure orders from the Department of Veterans Affairs for 125 million face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) that would have totaled over $750 million. For example, the complaint alleges that Parris promised that he could obtain millions of genuine 3M masks from domestic factories when he knew that fulfilling the orders would not be possible. Parris also allegedly made similar false representations to other entities in an effort to enter into other fraudulent agreements to sell PPE to state governments.

“Homeland Security Investigations special agents have sworn an oath to protect the American public, particularly during this health crisis, from opportunistic individuals who seek to deliberately harm and deceive others for their own profit," said Special Agent in Charge Jere T. Miles, Homeland Security Investigations – New Orleans. “Today, our special agents have shown their commitment to that promise.”

A criminal complaint is an accusation by a federal law enforcement agent, and defendants are entitled to the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty. Upon conviction for the wire fraud charge, the maximum statutory penalty is 20 years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

After his arrest, Parris appeared before Chief United States Magistrate Judge Alan J. Baverman in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, where he was ordered detained. Parris will be extradited to the District of Columbia.

Trial Attorney Patrick Runkle of the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Peter Lallas and Zia Faruqui of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia are prosecuting the case.

The charges in the criminal complaint are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The public is urged to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline (1-866-720-5721) or by e-mailing the Department of Homeland Security at Covid19Fraud@dhs.gov.
Updated: 12/15/2020