A Chagrin Falls man who was sued this week by the state of Ohio
for allegedly hoarding thousands of N95 masks and selling them at huge markups online released a statement through his lawyer contending that he had the stockpile long before the coronavirus emerged and was selling 10-packs of the masks at $350 apiece simply to make money while his business faltered.
"Contrary to the allegations of the complaint, I did not purchase a single N-95 mask at all during this pandemic, and I want to set the record straight," Mario Salwan said in the letter released through his lawyer. "I own a construction business and my employees use N-95 masks as basic personal protection when
working with construction dust from concrete sanding. In March of 2019, well before the discovery of the coronavirus, my company purchased 2,800 N-95 masks, at a bulk purchase discount, for use on construction sites and used most of them for that purpose over the past year.
"When the coronavirus 'stay at home' orders were put in place, my construction business suffered, as did many small businesses in the United States. I realized my business would not need the same quantity of masks as before the pandemic, so to help keep the business afloat and generate an income, I offered one box of 10 N-95 masks for auction on eBay to determine the current market pricing. The box sold for $370.50 and I then offered more of the masks for sale, pre-packaged in their original boxes of 10 masks per box, for up to $375 per box over the following few days. I did not buy the masks with the intention of selling them at all. No one had heard of the coronavirus when I bought them over a year ago. Once business slowed due to the coronavirus, I tried to get the masks I had purchased over a year ago into the hands of people who wanted them at a price that the market determined – and nothing more."
Hospitals and local governments have been facing severe shortages of PPE since the virus began to spread. Nurses and doctors have been reusing masks or using homemade cloth versions because N95s have been in such short supply. Well-publicized donation drives have been organized to help collect PPE so that frontline healthcare workers who are at high risk of contracting the virus while taking care of patients can be protected.
"My purchase of masks over a year ago did not contribute to the shortage of masks during this pandemic or limit the supply to health professionals," Salwan wrote, "and my intent was not to hurt anyone. I know my actions angered many, but I humbly ask the people I upset to please refrain from
threatening my employees and family. I hope that we all can live peacefully together moving forward through these unprecedented times."
Salwan has offered to donate the few hundred masks he has left.