3M sues more companies for allegedly inflating coronavirus N95 mask prices

The companies falsely claimed to be authorized 3M distributors, 3M alleges

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3M has filed five more lawsuits in federal courts in Florida, Wisconsin and Indiana against companies who allegedly inflated prices for N95 masks, the most sought after personal protective equipment for health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, while claiming to be authorized 3M distributors.

"We are grateful that in each of these cases, the false offers were reported to 3M, and the attempts to deceive public officials did not succeed," said 3M Senior Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary Ivan Fong in a statement Friday. "We will continue to take legal action in cases like these and are working closely with national and international law enforcement to help stop the perpetrators of these unlawful and unethical schemes."

3M said it is seeking "injunctive relief to require the companies to cease illegal activities" and said it will donate any damages recovered to COVID-19-related nonprofit organizations. The company has now filed 10 lawsuits after taking criticism from business and political leaders over the price of masks.

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In Tallahassee, 3M is suing Atlanta-based 1 Ignite Capital LLC, Institutional Financial Sales LLC, and Auta Lopes for attempting to sell 10 million N95 respirators to the Florida Division of Emergency Management at nearly 460 percent over list prices, while falsely claiming they were working with 3M.

Seattle Police officer Rosell Ellis, left, wears an N95 mask April 2, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

In Tampa, 3M is suing St. Petersburg, Florida-based TAC2 Global LLC for claiming to be a 3M distributor and for trying to sell the Florida Department of Management Services State Emergency Operations Center 5-10 million N95 respirators and hand sanitizer at highly inflated prices after falsely claiming to be a 3M supplier.

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In Orlando, 3M is suing King Law Center, Chartered for twice pretending to be affiliated with 3M as a vendor and escrow agent and for trying to sell the Florida Department of Management Services State Emergency Operation Center 5 million N95 respirators at 460 percent over list prices.

TickerSecurityLastChangeChange %
MMM3M COMPANY177.12+0.04+0.02%

In Indianapolis, 3M is suing Zachary Puznak, Zenger LLC and ZeroAqua, after Puznak attempted to sell up to 5 billion 3M respirators at more than double the list price. Puznak accused Indiana’s state employees of “paranoid irrationality” for asking for confirmation of any connection to 3M and falsely claimed 3M executives had told him to abandon the deal, according to 3M's complaint.

In Madison, Wisconsin, 3M is suing Hulomil LLC for trying to sell 250,000 N95 respirators to state officials at inflated prices, while trying to force Wisconsin to sign a nondisclosure agreement about the deal and falsely claiming to have "direct access from 3M."

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The additional lawsuits come after 3M filed one against a New Jersey-based mask seller Performance Supply LLC for selling masks to New York City, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, for $45 million, 500 to 600 percent more than 3M's list price.

"3M does not — and will not – tolerate individuals or entities deceptively trading off the fame and goodwill of the 3M brand and marks for personal gain," the company said in a press release. "This is particularly true against those who seek to exploit the surge in demand for 3M-brand products during the COVID-19 global pandemic, which already has claimed tens of thousands of lives worldwide and over 1,000 lives in Florida."

In the complaint against Performance Supply LLC, 3M noted that price gouging not only "further strain[s] the limited resources available to combat COVID-19" but it has also caused "public outrage which threatens imminent and irreparable harm to 3M's brand as defendant and similar pandemic profiteers promote an improper association between 3M's marks and exploitative pricing behavior."

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The effort to hold companies accountable comes after criticism last month from billionaire investor Mark Cuban that the company hasn't been doing enough to prevent price gouging.

President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act on 3M after accusing the company of allegedly shipping personal protective equipment to countries offering to pay a higher price than the U.S.

3M CEO Mike Roman pushed back against the president's claim, calling it "absurd" during a wide-ranging interview on FOX Business' Maria Bartiromo's Wall Street on April 3.

Days later at a White House coronavirus task force briefing, Trump said he had settled on an agreement with the company to produce N95 masks for the national stockpile.

"We reached an agreement, a very amicable agreement with 3M for the delivery of an additional 55.5 million high-quality face masks each month," Trump said. "We are going to be getting over the next couple of months 166.5 million masks for our frontline healthcare workers. So the 3M saga ends very happily."

3M stock closed at $ 148.60 per share at the end of Friday's trading session, down more than 2 percent.

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