On March 26, a powerful California union released a statement saying it had “located 39 million critically needed N95 masks and is connecting states, counties, health systems and individual hospitals to the supplier so they can purchase them in quantity.”
The Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) bragged that it had “launched an exhaustive search for masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) five days ago in response to pleas from frontline healthcare workers that they need more protection and feel unsafe on the job as they treat the growing number of COVID-19 patients. SEIU-UHW has 97,000 members who work in hospitals across California.”
“Within 48 hours of painstakingly calling leads and potential suppliers, the union discovered a distributor who had the 39 million masks, and has since found another supplier who says his company can produce 20 million more masks a week. The union also has found a supplier who can deliver millions of face shields,” the statement continued.
As Twitchy noted, Democrats and their media supporters delivered numerous union-good-Trump-bad takes, such as former Media Matters writer Oliver Willis, who tweeted: “seiu just revealed they found *39 million* n95 masks while trump is sitting on his hands.”
seiu just revealed they found *39 million* n95 masks while trump is sitting on his hands https://t.co/qwivLjvtmh
— Oliver Willis (@owillis) March 26, 2020
Former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazile tweeted: “Union Locates Massive Supply of N95 Masks – SEIU UHW. Thank you @SEIU. Proud to be a member of this union. We are all in this together.”
— Donna Brazile (@donnabrazile) March 26, 2020
They praised the union despite others having immediate concerns about the press release, including Twitchy Editor Greg Pollowitz, who asked, “this press release doesn’t make much sense. so there was a distributor just sitting on 39 million N95 masks until this union convinced them to sell them to hospitals?”
this press release doesn’t make much sense. so there was a distributor just sitting on 39 million N95 masks until this union convinced them to sell them to hospitals? https://t.co/EzEkYd5tYB
— Greg Pollowitz (@GPollowitz) March 26, 2020
It turns out Pollowitz was right. There was something fishy about the whole deal.
The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday that scammers were behind the allegedly discovered 39 million masks. The outlet and others, such as Newsweek, claimed the FBI only started investigating in an attempt to intercept the masks for the federal government using the Defense Production Act. But through the FBI’s investigation, the bureau discovered the union had been scammed – meaning they released the press release before they had proof of the existence of the masks.
U.S. Attorney Scott Brady of the Western District of Pennsylvania announced the FBI had traced the tip about the stockpile to a businessman in Pittsburgh. The man told FBI investigators that he was working with the union to obtain the masks and claimed some were in a Georgia warehouse.
“Brady said the businessman had been using WhatsApp to connect with a broker in Australia and a supplier in Kuwait, who are both now the target of a federal investigation,” the Times reported.
The outlet further reported that the Pittsburgh businessman and other middlemen had also been duped by the scammers.
“There are opportunists who are looking for any victim,” Brady said.
More from the Times:
Brady, the federal prosecutor, said the Pittsburgh businessman told investigators he was buying the masks at $3.50 each and turning a “slight profit” in the SEIU-led deal. The union said the masks were being purchased for $5 and that SEIU was not making any money. It’s unclear whether the Pittsburgh middleman intended to pocket the entire $9 million profit.
Brady said the foreign connections asked for a 40% payment upfront and that they planned to give Kaiser details on how to forward that payment at the last moment.
At one point, the Australian broker told the middleman in Pittsburgh that 2 million masks were located in a warehouse in Georgia and that the product had been inspected by a particular certification company.
Brady said the claim about the Georgia warehouse “was also part of the ruse.”