2 indicted in theft of masks during early days of pandemic

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Federal authorities in South Carolina say two men face criminal charges in the theft of masks and other personal protective equipment during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Attorneys Office in South Carolina released an indictment this week against Frank Smail, 49, of Colleton County, and Mike Pellegrini, 58, of North Charleston. Prosecutors accuse them of conspiring to steal boxes of respirator masks, surgical masks and rubber goggles from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in North Charleston.

The Post and Courier reports that the thefts are alleged to have happened when masks and goggles were in short supply nationwide in March and April. The materials were stolen from a federal facility that trains personnel from 90 federal agencies. Smail and Pellegrini worked at the center.

According to the indictment, Pellegrini helped advised Smail on the best time to steal the equipment. The exact value of the goods was not spelled out in the charges. “The large number of boxes stolen would have required a vehicle to transport and numerous trips to load the boxes,” the indictment said.

Officials at the federal training center told prosecutors they did not realize the masks and goggles had been stolen until after two people at the facility tested positive for the coronavirus in late March.

The newspaper reported that it was unable to reach either suspect by phone for comment. Smail entered a not guilty plea Wednesday, according to online court records. The online record showed no plea from Pellegrini as of midday Wednesday.

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