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Texas Man Pleads Guilty in Scheme to Sell N95 Masks to Australian State 


FILE - An N95 respirator mask produced by 3M, pictured in Maplewood, Minn., March 4, 2020.

A Texas man has pleaded guilty of involvement in a scheme to fraudulently sell 50 million N95 respirator masks he did not have for $317.6 million to the government of New South Wales in Australia, U.S. prosecutors said.

Arael Doolittle entered his plea to a wire fraud conspiracy charge on Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes in Houston.

Prosecutors said Doolittle and co-defendant Paschal Eleanya tried to sell 3M-branded masks at five times the list price, hoping to collect up to $275 million with the rest going to their "broker" and to representatives of the New South Wales government.

The U.S. Secret Service broke up the transaction before it was completed, an indictment last November said.

Doolittle, of Houston, faces up to five years in prison at his scheduled October 25 sentencing and will remain in custody until then.

A federal public defender representing Doolittle did not immediately respond on Wednesday to a request for comment.

Charges remain pending against Eleanya. His lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Doolittle separately pleaded guilty in June of wire fraud in connection with an alleged scheme to defraud investors in oil and gas transactions.

Prosecutors in that case agreed to recommend he spend four years in prison in addition to his sentence in the mask case.

3M Co., the world's largest maker of N95 masks, has tried since the COVID-19 pandemic began to stop price-gouging and other improper sales of its masks. It has filed 36 lawsuits and seized more than 41 million counterfeit masks.

In a statement, the St. Paul, Minnesota, company said it was pleased with the guilty plea and appreciated U.S. Department of Justice efforts to stop people from illegally exploiting demand for its masks.

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