Two Houston-area men have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that they negotiated a deal to sell 50 million nonexistent N95 masks to a foreign government in an attempt to defraud it out of over $317 million, federal officials said on Tuesday.
The men, Paschal Ngozi Eleanya, 46, and Arael Doolittle, 55, were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and two counts of wire fraud, according to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas. If convicted on all counts, each of them could face up to 45 years in prison.
Mr. Doolittle was taken into custody on Nov. 20, and his arraignment was set for Wednesday. Mr. Eleanya, who turned himself in to the authorities on Tuesday, is to be arraigned on Monday.
Neither of the men’s lawyers responded to requests for comment by phone and email.
At a court hearing on Tuesday, the targeted foreign government was identified as New South Wales, an Australian state, Reuters reported. According to the indictment, the two men were attempting to sell 50 million N95 masks, manufactured by the company 3M, at five times their public list price. They expected to pocket $275 million in the deal until the federal authorities stopped a wire transaction before it was completed.