US man sentenced for importing counterfeit 3M masks

An Arizona resident has been sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to pay restitution for his involvement in importing counterfeit copes of 3M N95 masks from Asia as the pandemic was at its peak.

Mark Forrest Cohn (68) of Chandler was sentenced last month after pleading guilty to one felony count of Entry of Goods by Means of False Statements, according to a statement from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which led the investigation into his activities.

According to court documents, Cohn fraudulently imported the counterfeit N95 masks into the US from China in October 2020, using shipping labels and papers that falsely represented the merchandise not subject to duties and inspection.

The shipment addressed to Custom Glass and Synthetic was intercepted at a Phoenix mail facility by HSI and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, and found to contain masks branded as 3M with pixelated photos on the packaging, which were subsequently confirmed as counterfeit by the company.

"Counterfeits create risks to the user because the seals can be ill-fitting and the masks less effective," said HSI in a statement. "The N95 mask is designed for health care workers as the fit and seal minimise the transference of COVID."

Cohn sold over 20,000 masks to a third-party vendor that supplied equipment to a Veterans Affairs Medical Centre (VAMC) warehouse in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The inspection was carried out as part of Operation Stolen Promise, which was launched in April 2020 to prevent and investigate illegal criminal activity surrounding the pandemic, strengthen global supply-chain security and protect the American public.

3M was one company that partnered with  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to crack down on the illicit trade in fake personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, saying last year that the aim was to "prevent fraud before it starts and stop it where it is happening."

Last year, the company established the 3M Verify platform, which aims to facilitate reporting of potentially counterfeit versions of its products. It also provides resources and information to help customers, distributors, employees and the general public avoid purchasing counterfeits.

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