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State suing man accused of trying to defraud officials in N95 mask scheme

Need a face mask? Beware these scams
Posted at 11:38 AM, Dec 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-11 11:45:24-05

INDIANAPOLIS — The state of Indiana has filed a lawsuit against a person accused of attempting to defraud officials for hundreds of millions of dollars.

The man, Zachary Puznak, offered to sell the state millions of N95 masks in April on behalf of the manufacturer, 3M, the state said. At the time, Indiana was trying to procure N95 masks for health care workers and essential businesses.

On April 14, Puznak emailed a representative of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, saying he could provide the State of Indiana with N95 masks at $2.82 per mask. He said he could sell a minimum of 100 million masks, and as many as 5 billion, manufactured by 3M, according to the state’s lawsuit.

If they agreed, the state would’ve paid Puznak and his company, Zenger LLC, between $285 million and $14.25 billion for the masks.

The IDEC representative asked for confirmation that the masks were real, and Puznak replied, according to the lawsuit, “I don’t think anything is going to satisfy you at this point. And it’s really quite sad. Especially for the people of Indiana. I’ve clearly explained how nobody has time or interest from the company in satisfying the paranoid irrationality of folks exhibiting this level of paranoia. I’m personally insulted that you are essentially calling me a liar.”

After the representative confirmed with 3M that Puznak wasn’t affiliated with the company, he ceased communication with him. The state never bought any masks from Puznak.

In late April, 3M filed a complaint in federal court against Puznak. In July, the court issued a consent judgement, a permanent injunction and a payment to 3M for donation to COVID-19 charitable relief efforts.

According to the law firm representing 3M, Puznak released the following statement:

“If I understood then what I understand now, I never would have gotten involved in this scheme. . . I am cooperating and have turned over all my communications with the architects of this scheme to 3M, who will share them with law enforcement. I have also sat for a deposition to tell my story on the record to help educate the public officials, health care administrators, and the general public to ensure they do not fall victim to a similar scheme in the future. I am committed to assisting 3M and law enforcement to see justice served.”

The state is attempting to prohibit Puznak and his company from trying to sell any personal protective equipment to people in Indiana without first reporting the details to the attorney general. The state is also seeking civil penalties and reimbursement of litigation costs.