One of the largest producers of all-important N95 masks, 3M, filed suit against an Orlando-based company, claiming the company posed as 3M distributors trying to make a 500% profit from the National Strategic Stockpile.
The company, through McDermott Will & Emery LLP, filed suit in Federal Court against Geftico LLC. The registered agent of Geftico LLC, Brian Walsh, did not comment to NBC 6 per its policy on lawsuits against the company.
“3M will continue to take action against those who exploit the demand for N95 respirators used by healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 fight,” 3M Senior VP Denise Rutherford said in a statement.
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According to the Minnesota-based company, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contacted the company when Geftico LLC made an offer in March to sell 15 million N95 respirator masks at more than $6 a piece, a more than 500% increase. 3M told the CDC and NBC 6 that Geftico LLC was not an authorized distributor for its product.
3M has also filed similar lawsuits in Texas, California and New York in their effort to defend their reputation after Florida officials and the President of the United States criticized their business practices.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz was openly critical about these so-called distributors for 3M, going off on the company as the COVID-19 crisis unfolded for not having a better handle over who was selling its product.
“The private market continues to have the madness and the disappointment really,” Moskowitz said earlier. "I think a lot of these corporations that are going to ask for bailouts at some point in time are really letting the American people down.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis even called the situation “shady as hell” as emergency workers would sign purchase orders that would never lead to any product - sometimes showing up to empty warehouses and waiting for shipments that never existed.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to order two and half million masks and they say they’re going to be there on Friday and the show up on Friday?” the governor said sarcastically.
“It’s just not true. We are doing everything. The employees of 3M around the world are working around the clock and in the United States to continue to deliver the increase,” said Mike Roman, 3M Chairman and CEO, on an extensive CNBC interview.
One particular complaint from Moskowitz was how 3M upheld existing contracts that sent millions of masks overseas as American states didn’t have enough supplies.
This lawsuit is the latest effort by 3M to crack down on people misleading state and federal government officials who frantically search for much needed masks.
The N95 respirator is key protection for hospital and medical workers as they care for highly contagious COVID-19 patients. When workers connect people to ventilators, to help them breathe, they have to shove a tube down into the patient’s lungs, creating a mess of debris and very contagious bodily fluids.
“There just isn’t enough, is the bottom line right. You have the entire world, there are 7 billion people who need the N95’s now,” said VA emergency room doctor Vincent DeGennaro.
DeGennaro tells NBC there simply wasn’t the supply chain in America set up to meet the need and after the crisis has hit, there are too many hoops to jump through to buy supplies on the open market personally.
“Realistically it’s all of the red tape that you have to go through to make sure it’s approved and get those certifications and to get the tests done costs money,” said DeGennaro.
In early April, President Trump used part of the Defense Production Act to compel 3M to make and send products to the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
Detailed in the lawsuit, 3M writes it is shipping 166.5 million masks from overseas into the United States over the next three months.