Muskegon man charged with COVID-19 related wire fraud scheme

GRAND RAPIDS - The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California unsealed charges on April 28 in a criminal complaint charging Rodney L. Stevenson II with wire fraud for his operation of an e-commerce site that allegedly scammed several customers into paying for N95 masks they never received.

The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California David L. Anderson, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Andrew B. Birge, U.S. Postal Inspection Service San Francisco Division Postal Inspector in Charge Rafael E. Nuñez, U.S. Postal Inspection Service Detroit Division Acting Inspector in Charge Felicia George, FBI Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett, and FBI Special Agent in Charge Detroit Field Division Steve D’Antuono.

According to the complaint, Stevenson, 24, of Muskegon, controlled EM General, a Michigan limited liability company created in September 2019. EM General operated a website that purported to sell an available inventory of “Anti-Viral N95” respirator masks. An N95 respirator mask is a particulate-filtering facepiece respirator that meets the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health N95 standard of air filtration. N95 masks, covering the user’s nose and mouth, are required to filter at least 95% of airborne particles.

The complaint further alleges EM General, through its website, falsely claimed to have N95 respirator masks “in stock” and available for sale and shipment during the shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on these and other representations, customers bought masks from the website, sometimes paying EM General more than $40 or more per mask.

Stevenson is alleged to have taken several steps to fraudulently make EM General appear to be a legitimate company. For example, Stevenson invented a fictional Chief Executive Officer, “Mike Thomas,” from whom fraudulent emails were sent, as well as several other fake officers or employees. Stevenson also used stock photographs from the Internet to create a page depicting this team of fake  staff.

After customers made their first purchase, the defendant offered additional masks to those customers at discounted prices.

The complaint describes how four victims paid for, but did not receive, N95-compliant masks. Three of the four victims reside in the San Francisco Bay Area, including a hospital employee. Also described in the complaint are follow-up emails from EM General to customers in which false excuses about supply and shipping issues were made. Three of the four customers in the complaint never received the promised products at all despite multiple representations the masks had been shipped. The fourth customer paid over $400 on March 2, for N95 masks represented to be “in stock,” and, after raising several complaints, on March 27, received cheaply made fabric masks. The masks, delivered in a white envelope with no return address, did not comply with the N95 standard that EM General purportedly sold.

Stevenson is charged with wire fraud. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison, followed by five years of court supervision, and a fine of up to $1,000,000.

Stevenson was arrested at his home in Muskegon, and made his initial appearance before the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan in Grand Rapids. Dates for further proceedings remain to be determined.

The case is being prosecuted by the Special Prosecutions Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California. This case is being investigated jointly by the San Francisco and Detroit Divisions of the United States Postal Inspection Service and the San Francisco and Detroit field offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

A complaint merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and any defendant so charged is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The reach of federal law enforcement is long. If someone uses the Internet to commit alleged fraud, their victims can be from anywhere and they could find themselves facing those victims and subject to serious federal charges far from home,” said U.S. Attorney Birge. “After some preliminary hearings here in West Michigan, all future proceedings related to these very serious allegations will be in Northern California.”


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