MIAMI, Fla. (FNN NEWS) – Hospitals, healthcare professionals, state and local governments in Florida are scrambling to locate and purchase thousands or even millions of N95 respirator masks needed to protect healthcare workers and first responders from the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
N95 Respirator Masks a Global Hot Commodity
The Miami Herald
reported that the Florida Division of Emergency Management spent $225 million to purchase 30 million masks at $7.50 apiece — agreed to on March 30. It was brokered through Miami lobbyist Manny Reyes, son of Miami commissioner, Manolo Reyes. In normal times, the masks might cost anywhere from 58 cents to $1.25 per unit.
The Case of 15,000 Missing N95 Masks
Miami shipping company Freight Hub Group
came under investigation last week for allegedly skimming thousands of N95 respirator masks earmarked to be donated to hospitals and first responders. The company was responsible for nineteen pallets–122,880 masks total–on March 28, 2020, but 15,120 masks appears to have vanshied into thin air after only two weeks of distribution.
In this photo provided by Patrick Jeary, pallets of the donors’ Gerson N95 masks are stacked on top of each other awaiting distribution at Freight Hub Group’s warehouse.
N95 respirator masks, which are designed to filter 95% of airborne particles, are considered critical personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical professionals treating patients with COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
Florida is among the U.S. states hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Philanthropist couple Jie Cao & Yuhong Feng foresaw the need for N95 masks and ordered them two months before the COVID-19 outbreak began ravaging the U.S. They contacted Patrick Jeary, a real estate broker and leader in Miami’s international business community, to help them distribute the masks. The rollout, however, was a different story.
An Irresistible Opportunity
“On Monday, March 30, 2020 at 8am, Luis Lopez
called me and introduced himself as the owner of the Gofreighthub group,” Jeary shared in an email to Medley Police Department
, a small town police agency located in northwest Miami-Dade County, last week. “He [Lopez] had heard from his sales manager Emilio Magdalena
that we had planned to donate all of these 122,880 masks and wanted to help us. He offered to deliver the masks anywhere in the US free of charge, noting that in South Florida it would be his carriers, but over the US they would use [a] third party.”
The donors’ masks have been distributed to medical facilities, law enforcement, and government entities across the country:
– City of Miami Beach: 1,680 masks
– City of Miami Police: 1,680 masks
– Comprehensive Health Care Center (North Miami): 1,680 masks
– Sutter Hospital (California): 480 masks
– Memorial Health Care Broward: 6,480 masks
– Seattle Health System: 12,960 masks
– Mount Sinai: 12,960 masks
– Baptist Hospital: 19,440 masks
– Jackson Memorial Miami: 12,960 masks
– Holy Name Medical Center, New York: 6,480 masks
– New York State: 25,920 masks
Then Masks Went Missing
Jeary received more requests to donate the critically needed N95 masks:
– Florida National News coordinated with Jeary to secure thousands of masks for Orange County Government
Jeary emailed both parties, alloting 9 cartons, or over 2,000 masks, for each.
However, when Jeary received the requests from Miami Dade Ambulance Service and Orange County Government, he contacted Freight Hub on April 14, 2020 to confirm the remaining inventory before making the next shipment. However, Magdalena replied stating that there were only eighteen cartons (only 4,320 masks) remaining. After a lengthy email exchange, the company informed him that they were not prepared to investigate the loss and stood by their inventory totals. They suggested that Jeary make a claim for the missing masks, which was a thirty-sixty day process, but refused to release the remaining eighteen cartons unless Jeary released them from all claims.
Jeary took sharp action, contacting Medley Police Department to investigate.
“We are missing sixty-three cartons or 2.4 pallets at a cost value of around $27,000, and as confirmed by Baptist [Hospital], with a value today in the middle of the crisis of a minimum of $75,600,” wrote Jeary in his email to Medley PD last week.
The masks were initially packed in three tiers of nine cartons–twenty-seven cartons total–per pallet with a weight of 233 pounds. But when Jeary asked hospitals to send back delivery photos, he noticed four to five cartons missing from the top stack on nearly every pallet. Even in Freight Hub Group’s April 2, 2020 email newsletter, photos on the bottom show multiple pallets opened simultaneously with cartons missing from the top stack of each one.
Freight Hub Group’s email newsletter shows the pallets of N95 masks with missing boxes on the top stack. Image: Freight Hub Group.
What’s more, the company listed the donations, but made no mention of the donors, appearing to take credit for the charitable distribution, and stated “N95 masks by Gerson delivered this week. Over a half a million masks we donated this week!” The donors purchased 122,880 Gerson masks, which is significantly less than the half-million figure mentioned in the email newsletter.
In an email response last Friday, Freight Hub Group’s Magdalena informed Jeary they were receiving calls from people claiming to be him, making threats, and accused Jeary of making “unscrupulous demands” to track each pallet, which he said couldn’t be done due to low manpower, despite the company’s technology and cargo tracking system (Truck Hub) being its main selling point. He also highlighted the fact that the company did the distribution for free and placed Jeary’s order above paying customers when he didn’t “pay a cent.”
“This is an outrage,” Jeary told Florida National News in a written statement last Saturday. “The goal is getting the masks to the people that need it most! The donors don’t want to pursue a claim, they just want the masks to go where they are needed. The mudslinging is unnecessary. At this point, they just want the remaining masks released so that those who really need them get them.”
Lieutenant German Gutierrez of Medley PD provided Florida National News with the police report
via public records request. According the police report, Jeary filed the request for investigation April 16, 2020 at 8:40am for the missing 63 cartons of N95 masks, valued at $27,000.
Patrick Jeary’s police report against Freight Hub Group for the missing 63 cartons of N95 masks. Courtesy of Medley Police Department.
Medley PD reports that a detective went with Jeary to the Freight Hub warehouse, and after speaking with Freight Hub Group owner Luis Lopez, Lopez said he was withholding the 18-and-a-half cartons because an argument had ensued in which Jeary threatened to sue the company. The Medley PD detective impounded the remaining 18-and-a-half cartons that Freight Hub Group was withholding and later turned them over to Dr. Rudy Moise on Jeary and the donors’ behalf. Lieutenant Gutierrez provided Florida National News with the product receipt
Furthermore, Lieutenant Gutierrez told Florida National News in an email Thursday that Freight Hub Group had actually donated three boxes of the very masks in question to Medley Police Department’s first responders, which Jeary and the donors had no knowledge of.
Not the First Time: Better Business Bureau Reviews
Despite Freight Hub Group’s A- rating according to the Better Business Bureau serving Miami Dade County, Jeary isn’t the first person to experience the company’s willingness to withhold cargo.
On Freight Hub Group’s BBB profile
(listed as Freight Hub Corp. and DGD Transport, Inc.), three previous customers made similar cargo-holding complaints in less than a year, saying that working with Freight Hub Group was the worst experience they’d had in their decades of shipping experience.
As recently as April 9, 2020, Scott G. reported in his review that after the initial conversation with the company to transload his cargo container from Port Miami to Fort Lauderdale, the company requested “the particulars” in order to complete a rate quote.
According to Scott, he never completed the rate quote nor authorized the company to do the work, yet his cargo was picked up and the company brought the container to their warehouse, but claimed that the cargo couldn’t be removed from the truck because they didn’t have the right gear, which caused it to remain with them, racking up drayage, trucking, and other fees.
Scott added that in a later email from Freight Hub Group, he was informed that the company sent his account to a bank for collections due to the unpaid fees.
When Scott emailed them again about releasing his cargo, Scott claimed Magdalena emailed him back saying he was “‘going to put a lien on our cargo until I came to my senses’,” Scott wrote. “He said that we were ‘out of line’ when we demanded accountability.”
On November 19, 2019, Lily Y. reported in a review, “They are adding extra fees without any explanations. Once we questioned unreasonable charges, they have illegally held our container at their possession, blackmailing us, that they will not deliver our container until we pay them unreasonable extra charges they have added to our invoices. Worst company ever! Stay away from them!”
On August 2, 2019, Sonja C. wrote in her review that her company “disclosed [the] full set of requirements, cargo details, and the whole project outlay. We have asked Freight Hub multiple times during the execution of the project if all charges are included, and they have confirmed they were.” However, she reports that once Frieght Hub Group delivered her company’s cargo to the port, they charged “approximately $4,000 more than what was quoted, and demanded immediate payment so that they can tender the cargo at the port. Basically, they took the cargo as a hostage until the full payment was made.” When her company demanded answers for the extra fees, she noted, “Their response for that was that they called off the driver that was already at the port tendering one of the containers.”
Medley PD’s Decision
Lieutenant Gutierrez informed Florida National News that Jeary, the donors, and Freight Hub Group ultimately reached an agreement concerning the missing masks and the police department closed their investigation.
Jeary and Freight Hub Group were unavailable for comment.
A Problem on a National Scale
This police investigation is just one of many across the country, given the current demand for the N95 masks. Between March and April, there have been several reports of masks being stolen or fraudulent international scams to bilk money.
Please report COVID-19 fraud, hoarding, or price-gouging to local law enforcement, the Florida Attorney General’s Office, or the National Center for Disaster Fraud’s National Hotline at (866) 720-5721 or email email@example.com
This a developing story. Willie David and Mellissa Thomas contributed to this report. | firstname.lastname@example.org