The Justice Department is warning people hoarding masks, gowns and medication touted by President Donald Trump as a possible coronavirus treatment that they are in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors cracking down on profiteering, the Washington Post reports. The two U.S. Attorneys in Ohio aimed a public statement at physicians who are prescribing anti-viral medications to healthy friends or associates because there is some anecdotal evidence the drugs could treat coronavirus. “If there’s a shortage that’s driven by panic in the medical profession, that cannot stand,” said Justin Herdman, U.S. Attorney in Cleveland. “So we are committed to going after this.” Federal prosecutors have not charged anyone with crimes stemming from coronavirus-related hoarding, though they have brought a civil case against a website claiming to distribute vaccines that do not exist. The scope of the problem is unknown.
Attorney General William Barr said officials had “already initiated investigations of activities that are disrupting the supply chain and suggestive of hoarding,” as well as directing each U.S. Attorney’s office to designate a prosecutor to handle any cases. Barr created a task force led by New Jersey U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito to combat hoarding and price gouging. “We will not tolerate bad actors who treat the crisis as an opportunity to get rich quick,” Barr said. “We’re talking about people hoarding these goods and materials on an industrial scale for the purpose of manipulating the market and ultimately driving windfall profits. If you have a big supply of toilet paper in your house, this is not something you have to worry about. But if you are sitting on a warehouse with masks, surgical masks, you will be hearing a knock on your door.”