24-year-old man facing 30 years for COVID-19 related wire fraud

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In this illustration dated February 26, 2020, protective N-95 face masks lie on a table at an office in Washington, DC. (Photo by EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO – A 24-year-old man from Muskegon, Michigan is charged with wire fraud in connection with a website that allegedly scammed customers into paying for N95 masks they never received.

According to the complaint, Rodney Stevenson II controlled EM General, a Michigan limited liability company that claimed to sell an available inventory of “Anti-Viral N95” respirator masks.

The complaint alleges that the website falsely claimed to have N95 respirator masks “in stock” and available for sale and shipment during the shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stevenson is alleged to have taken several steps to fraudulently make EM General appear to be a legitimate company including invented a fictional Chief Executive Officer, “Mike Thomas,” from whom fraudulent emails were sent, as well as several other fake officers or employees of the company.

Stevenson also used stock photographs from the internet to create a page depicting this team of fake professional management staff. After customers made their first purchase, the defendant offered additional masks to those customers at discounted prices.

Stevenson was arrested at his home in Muskegon and made his initial appearance before the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan in Grand Rapids. He was released on supervised bond.

“The reach of federal law enforcement is long. If someone uses the internet to commit alleged fraud, their victims can be from anywhere and they could find themselves facing those victims and subject to serious federal charges far from home,” said U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Andrew Birge. “After some preliminary hearings here in West Michigan, all future proceedings related to these very serious allegations will be in Northern California.”

Three of the four victims are from the San Francisco Bay Area, including one hospital employee.

“Hospitals, healthcare providers and everyday people are understandably anxious to obtain N95 masks, N99 filters and other PPE,” said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California David Anderson. “The criminal element is always ready to prey on fear and uncertainty, and it is all too easy to lie over the internet. While sheltering in place, Americans are shopping on the internet like never before. The complaint alleges a consumer’s nightmare of fake webpages and false promises.”

If convicted, the Stevenson faces a maximum sentence of 30 years of prison, 5 years of probation, and a fine of $1,000,000.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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