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Pandemic profiting: Georgia Attorney General weighs in on mask markups

11Alive’s Chief Investigator purchases masks undercover

ATLANTA — Three one-hundredths of a millimeter - that’s all that is protecting health care workers from catching or transmitting the deadly novel coronavirus

Yet as small as these protective barriers are in the form of masks, they still remain in short supply despite being vital in the fight against the worldwide pandemic. 

“Doctors having to re-use masks. Nurses seeing multiple patients with a single mask. They’re literally washing single-use masks to re-use them. Is that concerning to you?” 11Alive’s Chief Investigator Brendan Keefe asked Georgia’s Attorney General, Chris Carr, during an interview. 

“Across the board, medical professionals are telling us that we need masks, and we need gowns and we need ventilators,” Carr said. 

These shortages in personal protective equipment have left some wondering where else to turn as states bid over medical supplies, while others are resorting to private sales as a solution.

Last week, Keefe purchased 20 of these desperately needed masks from a seller on Craigslist for $97. Before the pandemic, they were $21.47

11Alive’s video now has the state’s attorney general asking whether inflated mask markets are legal or not. 

“So $60 then?” Keefe asked the seller during the undercover sale. 

"Uh, they’re $5 each. So for 20 [masks] that’s a [$100],” the seller said back. 

The seller from Craigslist told Keefe he had more masks - a lot more. 

“Are you doing this to help people, or to make money, or both?” 11Alive’s Chief Investigator asked. 

“Both, because I have a supply but the thing is I also have $150,000 of my own money out here,” the seller answered. 

“Invested in this?” Keefe questioned again. 

“Invested,” the seller claimed.

The man 11Alive met with for the undercover sale texted us videos he claims show boxes of masks he’s importing in bulk. 

“This guy says he has a warehouse with pallets of hundreds of thousands of masks,” Keefe told Attorney General Carr after showing him the video of the purchase. 

“That’s exactly what it appears to me, the president’s order was about. If this individual had been in the medical distribution business for a while that may be one thing," Carr said. "But if all of a sudden he’s popped up and decided this is the field we’re going to be in, you’ve got to follow the law, and it sounds to me like there are some troubling aspects to this case."

Last week, the White House held a press briefing highlighting some of the various issues of stockpiling that’s been seen across the country. 

“If you are sitting in a warehouse with masks - surgical masks - you will be hearing a knock on your door,” US Attorney General William Barr said during the press conference. 

But the federal government hasn’t yet declared masks as a “scarce” item, which is required before federal agents can enforce the president’s order. For now, this type of enforcement responsibility has fallen into the hands of the states.

RELATED: Coronavirus in Georgia: Number of confirmed cases crosses 4,000 with more than 120 deaths

“Any time there’s an emergency like we have now with the public health emergency, when the governor signs that into effect, our price gouging laws are in effect,” Georgia Attorney General Carr said. 

However, masks were already selling for more than $7, nationwide, before Georgia’s governor declared an emergency. The seller 11Alive met with for the undercover sale was selling his masks well below the going rate. 

“You can’t charge more after [the governor] signed the order than you could before,” Carr said. 

“What are the masks costing you if you’re selling them for three, in bulk?” Keefe asked the seller from Craigslist. 

“$2.60,” he responded back. 

“So you’re making $0.40?” Keefe questioned again. 

“Yeah, that’s not including shipping though,” the seller said. 

11Alive’s Chief Investigator texted the seller after the transaction last week - identifying ourselves as journalists. 

“Were you in the mask business before COVID-19?” Keefe asked. 

“Import, yes. Medical supplies was one of the imports,” he replied back via text. 

When we asked the seller when he got into the mask business, there was no response. Several days later 11Alive still hasn’t heard back from him.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr told 11Alive his office has received hundreds of complaints of price gouging but will continue to investigate every complaint. 

11Alive is focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus.  We want to keep you informed about the latest developments while ensuring that we deliver confirmed, factual information. 

We will track the most important coronavirus elements relating to Georgia on this page. Refresh often for new information. 

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