A South Florida trio has been sentenced to prison for stealing a massive amount of medical supplies during the COVID pandemic. Now, 7 Investigates is getting a rare, inside look at how the feds cracked this case. Here’s the Night Team’s Karen Hensel.
It was July and August 2020. COVID cases and deaths climbed as South Florida hospitals struggled with the surge.
Martha Baker, RN (July 2020): “This is getting out of control. Every day it’s more. We’re all at capacity.”
Personal protective equipment — like N95 masks, hospital gloves and gowns — were in short supply.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Ustynoski: “And with the height of the pandemic, now these things are like gold, you know.”
Three local men did know, and they concocted a plan to profit from that knowledge.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Ustynoski: “This was, if not the largest, it’s definitely one of the largest theft of PPE in the United States.”
James Ustynoski is an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
He prosecuted the men and provided 7 Investigates with a rare, behind-the-scenes look at how the crime unfolded.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Ustynoski: “This is a still shot from a video surveillance cam.”
The picture shows the large warehouse of a medical supply company in Broward.
Ustynoski says the business became concerned about missing shipments.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Ustynoski: “They knew somebody was stealing it and kind of had to be an inside job.”
Turns out, it was. The company hired private investigators and later contacted authorities. The FDA and U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigated.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Ustynoski: “I think it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for just one person in the warehouse to do it.”
Instead, he says this was a three-man theft ring.
Alexander Jolly and Kenold Million worked overnight at the warehouse.
Pietro Sinclair worked for a trucking company the medical supply business used to transport supplies from the warehouse to hospitals.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Ustynoski: “Before he would reach the hospitals, he would stop at a residence in Broward County that, ironically, was rented by Jolly and Million.”
Prosecutors say they unloaded dozens of pallets in this carport hidden behind cardboard and a couch.
From there, the poached PPE was on the move in trucks again.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Ustynoski: “And this is them under — obviously — under surveillance by law enforcement.”
Ustynoski says the men made cash selling the supplies on the side, dropping them off at various locations like this one.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Ustynoski: “We noticed in continued surveillance that this white van then pulled up, and product was loaded from the store into that van.”
A closer look inside that van reveals boxes stacked to the top.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Ustynoski: “Those are Nitrile gloves and N95 masks.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Ustynoski: “We believe, ultimately, they were going to be — at least some of the pallets were going to be — tried to be shipped overseas because they were so valuable.”
Little did the men know, the feds were about to put the brakes on their operation — arresting all three.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Ustynoski: “They were surprised. They were definitely surprised.”
Stolen, in total, more than 8.5 million pairs of gloves; 57,000 respirator masks and dozens of hospital gowns.
All taken at a critical point in the pandemic, when they would have been worth more than $2 million.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Ustynoski: “Who knows what the repercussions were, patients not getting those masks, doctors not getting the masks, hospital staff. We’ll never really know.”
The federal prosecutor says the three men, who had no prior criminal history, were remorseful in court. They pleaded guilty, must pay restitution, and they were each sentenced to more than two years in federal prison. They are set to start serving their time later this month.
Karen Hensel, 7News.