UPDATE: SEIU Didn't Find 39 Million Masks; They Fell For a "Nigerian Prince" Type Scam

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

On March 26 the Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) announced that they’d located a supplier who had 39 million N95 masks and that the union, out of the kindness of their heart(s), was hurriedly connecting hospital systems with the supplier. According to the union’s press release, SEIU-UHW had “no financial interest in the transactions.”

Though they’d already availed themselves of the obligatory celebratory press release, SEIU-UHW bigwigs weren’t content with that positive press and decided to publicly shame hospital systems who’d turned down their offer to buy masks at $5 apiece. On March 27 the union launched an online petition against HCA, Providence, and AHMC hospitals in California:

Some hospitals agreed to purchase the N95s, and they will be delivered to hospitals next week.  There are millions more in the pipeline.

SEIU informed your employers at HCA, Providence, and AHMC hospitals that these masks were available for immediate purchase for your hospital and the healthcare system you’re a part of.

The bad news?: Your healthcare system said “no thanks.”

This is another example of your hospital putting bottom line profits over your safety and your patients’ safety.

Please click here to sign this petition today to urge your hospital to accept these masks.

This saga raised eyebrows for a couple of reasons: one, how was it possible that one supplier had 39 million N95 masks laying around in this environment and nobody knew about it, and two, why were they being sold for $5 each?

The US Attorney’s Office wondered about that too, and launched an investigation into whether they could intercept the shipment for FEMA under the Defense Production Act. That investigation revealed that the 39 million masks didn’t exist, and that essentially a businessman in Pittsburgh and the SEIU had been duped by scammers using a slightly newer version of the Nigerian prince email scheme.

Read through this supply chain explanation given by United States Attorney Scott Brady in a press conference Friday and see if you can find the red flags?

Brady said investigators tracked the tip back to a Pittsburgh businessman, who said he had been working with the union to secure millions of masks, some of which were purported to be sitting in a Georgia warehouse. Brady said the businessman had been using WhatsApp to connect with a broker in Australia and a supplier in Kuwait….

Brady said the foreign connections asked for a 40% payment upfront and that they planned to give Kaiser details on how to forward that payment at the last moment.

Seriously, are they that stupid? The masks are in the United States, but the businessman has to communicate with an Australian broker via WhatsApp and the masks were produced in Kuwait? And they’re waiting for instructions on how to forward that 40% payment out of the country at the last moment? Sounds legit, bro.

Brady, the federal prosecutor, said the Pittsburgh businessman told investigators he was buying the masks at $3.50 each and turning a “slight profit” in the SEIU-led deal. The union said the masks were being purchased for $5 and that SEIU was not making any money. It’s unclear whether the Pittsburgh middleman intended to pocket the entire $9 million profit.

When the masks weren’t forthcoming and “the seller had ‘repeatedly failed to provide reliable information about where we could verify and inspect the shipment,'” Kaiser withdrew from the purchase.

Prosecutors said that the union and the Pittsburgh businessman were targets of the scam and are not under investigation, but maybe they should be. In a Facebook live town hall held April 1, SEIU-UHW president Dave Regan said they’d “successfully purchased the masks and that workers would soon be receiving them,” which was clearly false and contradicts Regan’s prior statement that the union wasn’t going to be involved in the financial transaction. Hospitals and clinics wasted at least a week waiting for masks that would never arrive and presumably weren’t looking for masks elsewhere. How many SEIU-UHW workers will get sick because of their union’s malfeasance?