Houston swindled out of $1.7 million for faulty N95 masks

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | June 25, 2021
The city of Houston spent roughly $1.7 million on more than 900,000 counterfeit masks and is now requesting for the money to be returned
The city of Houston is out roughly $1.7 million after buying more than 900,000 defective masks.

The city bought the 3M-N95 masks from manufacturer Med-Tech Resource and was planning to distribute them to frontline workers, according to court records, reported KPR 2 News.

“If you don’t have the proper equipment, if you don’t trust the equipment that you have, it’s unacceptable,” said Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association.

The city said in court documents that a city employee became suspicious after hearing that many masks on the market were counterfeit. Upon discovering the masks were fakes, police quarantined them and they were never used.

The funds to pay for the masks were seized by federal authorities, and the city is now requesting them back.

The federal government seized $3.6 million from the same company in May over a deal in which it sold $4.5 million in overpriced, counterfeit N-95 masks to the state of Maine. The U.S. attorney demanded the company reimburse the state for 1.8 million fake respirators it purchased. Company CEO and founder Michael Modrich had already agreed to do so, reported the Associated Press. “We’ll do everything in our power to make everyone whole.”

The city is also dealing with another matter concerning 150 employees who resigned or were fired from Houston Methodist Hospital this week for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Initially suspended for two weeks, the employees issued a lawsuit against the hospital, but a judge dismissed it earlier this month. Houston Methodist Hospital is believed to be the first major U.S. hospital system to make the vaccine mandatory for employees, according to the Associated Press.

A growing number of counterfeit masks during the pandemic have robbed providers of millions of dollars, with a news report last May listing more than 500 related seizures and 11 arrests only three months into the pandemic. Cases were still reported this year, with one in April involving a Massachusetts hospital worker who identified an order of 30,000 respirators as counterfeit and prevented them from being passed out to doctors. The masks were seized by Homeland Security which launched an investigation into the matter.

A Premier report in April found that PPE supplies were still constrained a year into the pandemic, with N95 respirators and masks the hardest to source. As COVID-19 variants circulate and U.S. vaccination efforts continue, ongoing demand spikes coupled with global manufacturing, labor and logistics issues could lead to almost any product slipping into shortage," James Ludwig, vice president of supply chain strategy at Premier Inc., told HCB News at the time the report came out.

Modrich and his company did not respond to KPRC 2’s request for comment. A spokeswoman for Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told the news channel that the city was not going to comment beyond what was already stated in the public records.

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