A 58-year-old Hixson man pleaded guilty Monday to wire fraud and money laundering as part of a scheme involving the fake purchase and resale of personal protective equipment used in the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office Eastern District of Tennessee.
David Michael Wright, Sr., 58, worked with at least one victim to obtain money fraudulently through what he claimed was an investment opportunity to buy and sell personal protective equipment, including KN95 masks, to hospitals and other retailers, according to court documents cited in the news release.
The news release states that Wright falsely claimed that he had contacts with Chinese manufacturers to source such products, that he was importing those products and selling them in the United States at a significant profit.
"In July 2020, Wright emailed the victim with an attached fraudulent $49,700 pro forma invoice from an alleged Chinese manufacturer for the purported purchase of 70,000 KN95 masks, which Wright falsely claimed could be purchased by the victim and then resold to CHI Memorial Hospital for $210,000, resulting in a profit of $140,000 for the victim," the news release states. "Several days later, the victim paid Wright $49,700 cash for the purchase of KN95 masks, and Wright provided the victim with a fraudulent DHL tracking number for the 'shipment' from China."
In August 2020, the news release states that Wright gave the victim a check for $210,000 representing the victim's proceeds from the sale. However, CHI Memorial and Wright did not have an agreement, and therefore there were insufficient funds to cover the check that Wright made out to the victim.
"Wright also learned that the victim had a connection with a hand sanitizer manufacturer, Miramar Labs," the news release states. "Wright fraudulently represented that Publix Super Markets, Inc. (Publix) was going to purchase 40,000 bottles of hand sanitizer, and, to maintain that deception, Wright wired some of the money obtained from the fraudulent KN95 scheme to Miramar Labs, while the victim paid the remaining amount."
Wright obtained around $80,500 total as part of his scheme, according to U.S. Attorney's Office Eastern District of Tennessee.
Wright will be detained pending sentencing, which is set for Oct. 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
He faces a possible sentence of up to 30 years in prison on the wire fraud count and up to 10 years imprisonment on the money laundering count, along with significant fines, restitution, and forfeiture of property, according to the release.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Coronavirus Fraud Task Force.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice's National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or go to justice.gov/coronavirus.
— Compiled by staff writer Elizabeth Fite.