By DONOVAN HARRELL
The U.S. Department of Justice has announced charges against a former Pitt emergency management official, who allegedly made more than $18,700 from selling stolen personal protective equipment (PPE).
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania announced on March 23 that a federal grand jury had indicted Christopher D. Casamento, Pitt’s former director of emergency management, on a charge of Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property.
According to the news release, from Feb. 28, 2020, to March 22, 2020, Casamento allegedly stole 13,615 PPE, including particulate respirator masks, surgical face masks and Aura N95 respirator masks, from the University and sold them on eBay through the vendor page “steel-city-motor-toys.”
Casamento then shipped the masks — which were meant for Pitt students, faculty and staff — to buyers outside of Pennsylvania, according to the news release. He earned approximately $18,783.50 from the eBay sales.
“At the start of the pandemic, when supplies of PPE were low and nationwide demand was intense, Mr. Casamento used his position of trust and access to critical PPE to enrich himself at the expense of Pitt students and faculty,” said acting U.S. Attorney Stephen Kaufman. “We will continue to investigate and prosecute individuals who illegally profit from COVID related fraud.”
A Pitt spokesman confirmed that in early July federal and state law enforcement alerted the University of an investigation into the misappropriated PPE.
After fully cooperating with the FBI, Pitt conducted an internal review and fired Casamento on July 17, 2020, after he admitted to misconduct, the University said.
He’d been with the University since 2007. One of Casamento’s duties was to distribute the PPE to essential employees.
However, the University’s stockpile of PPE was not significantly impacted.
“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Pittsburgh has maintained an adequate stockpile of PPE sufficient to meet the needs of the University community,” the University statement said. “Fulfillment of requests for personal protective equipment were not impacted as a result of the misappropriation. The University is seeking restitution for the misappropriated supplies from Mr. Casamento.”
In the news release, FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Michael Christman said that instead of distributing the PPE to people in need, Casamento “chose to line his pockets.”
“The allegations set forth today are upsetting. With so much widespread suffering in our communities due to COVID, having this vital equipment taken away from people is unfortunate,” Christman said. “I would like to thank the University of Pittsburgh for their full cooperation in this investigation and hope this continues to send a message that COVID fraud will be fully investigated."
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
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