Two Houston men charged with attempting to fraudulently sell 50 million masks

By: U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Texas
| Published 11/24/2020

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HOUSTON, TX -- Two Houston area men have been charged for attempting to fraudulently sell 50 million non-existent N95 facemasks to a foreign government, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.

Paschal Ngozi Eleanya, 46, turned himself in to authorities today and is expected to make his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sam S. Sheldon at 2 p.m. Authorities took Arael Doolittle, 55, into custody Nov. 20. He made his initial appearance yesterday and is set for an arraignment and detention hearing Nov. 25 at 10 a.m.

A federal grand jury returned the three-count indictment Nov. 19. Both are charged for their role in a scheme to sell 50 million 3M model 1860 N95 respirator masks to a foreign government they did not actually possess. The indictment also alleges they defrauded a foreign government out of more than $317 million - the total purchase price of the masks

According to the indictment, Doolittle, Eleanya and their brokers negotiated a sales price for the masks that was five times the public list price that 3M had set. The two expected to personally obtain up to $275 million as a result of the fraudulent scheme, according to the charges. Based on their representations, the foreign government allegedly wired the funds to complete the purchase.

Authorities disrupted the transaction before it could be completed.

If convicted, both Doolittle and Eleanya face up to five years in prison for conspiracy and up to 20 years in prison for each of the two counts of wire fraud. Each of these charges also carry a possible $250,000 maximum fine.

The Secret Service conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin R. Martin is prosecuting the case.

Attorney General William P. Barr created the COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force which coordinates efforts between the Antitrust Division and U.S. Attorneys across the country wherever illegal activity involving protective personal equipment occurs. The Department of Health and Human Services has issued a notice designating categories of health and medical supplies that must not be hoarded or sold for exorbitant prices.

The public is asked to report COVID-19 fraud, hoarding or price-gouging to the National Center for Disaster Fraud’s (NCDF) National Hotline at (866) 720-5721 or visit The Department of Justice’s NCDF website.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

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