Federal agent reportedly accuses Utah business owner of selling fake medical masks, business owner wants them back
PLEASANT GROVE – A Utah business owner is calling out Homeland Security after an agent seized hundreds of protective masks he was trying to sell. However, officials in law enforcement say there is far more to this story than what is seen on video.
Utah Grand Finale Fireworks Owner Douglas Gordon normally sells fireworks from a stand outside of the Water Gardens Theaters in Pleasant Grove. However, this week he was selling and giving away different kinds of masks he was able to buy from a manufacturer in China. He would charge new customers $5 for a mask, but his existing firework clientele would get one for free.
Gordon says that’s when a man approached him and ordered him to stop what he was doing.
“He got out of his car and he came up. He told me I was selling fake masks and price gouging and that there was no way I could get masks because hospitals and doctors couldn’t even get masks,” Gordon tells KSL.
Gordon recorded a video of the interaction and posted it online. In the videos, you can hear the man claiming to be federal agent and that he was seizing the masks. They argued…
“We’ve been on the lookout for masks like this.”
“These masks are legit.”
“They’re not, I’m telling you.”
“They ARE legit.”
The argument started to get tenser, so, officers from the Pleasant Grove Police Department were called to keep the peace. Those officers confirmed the man indeed was a Homeland Security agent, and they’ve worked with him in the past. Feeling he had no choice but to let the masks be taken, Gordon asked to keep a few for his family. The agent told him the masks wouldn’t do Gordon any good.
“I’m not going to argue about whether they’re good or bad. I know they’re bad, OK?” the agent says in the video.
Gordon acknowledges these aren’t the N95 masks that are in such high demand, right now. They’re the KN95, which he claims are the Asian equivalents of the N95. He says the masks have been approved by the FDA for use in the US, and he wasn’t selling them for medical use. He refutes any claims of price gouging, saying they cost him around $4 apiece, and he was selling them for $5. The Pleasant Grove Police Department says federal agents from several different agencies have been ordered to investigate claims of price gouging.
Gordon doesn’t believe the agent had the expertise to know if the masks were counterfeit.
“You can’t identify masks by looking at them unless you get them tested,” Gordon says.
It’s not necessarily a question about whether the masks are legitimate or not. Public safety is a huge factor in a case like this. Some law enforcement agencies are receiving reports of counterfeit masks coming from China made from potentially harmful materials that actually make people sicker when they wear them. They also say when items like this are seized, they aren’t just simply given to doctors and nurses who may want them. They’ll be inspected by lab technicians. In the video, you can hear the agent telling Gordon that if the masks are determined to be safe to use, he will give them back.
There are some things people can look for to see if they’re getting a counterfeit N95 mask. Doctor Jeremy Briggs with the University of Utah says the CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have catalogues of approved mask makers, and each mask should have a NIOSH stamp on it.
“What you can do, if you’re concerned, you can look up that catalogue number and look at the manufacturer and make sure that on NIOSH, those things correlate well,” Briggs says.
If a mask is counterfeit, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad for use outside of a hospital, as long as it’s not made with anything harmful.
“The thought is, we’re helping to protect others from ourselves,” Briggs says. “If you’re a person that has no symptoms but has the virus, or has minimal symptoms, you wearing a mask protects others more than you wearing a mask protects yourself.”
Last week, CNBC reported that the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services and FEMA were instructed to seize exports of personal protective equipment like N95 respirators, surgical masks, and gloves. Gordon acknowledges he got the masks straight from the manufacturer. Technically, they would have fallen under this federal order.