A 42-year-old Florida man was apprehended by police in Del Rio, Texas, in an alleged plot to steal 192 medical ventilators owned by the U.S. government. The devices are reportedly worth approximately three million dollars. The equipment was intended for an intensive care facility in El Salvador, for the treatment of critically ill COVID-19 patients, as part of a United States coronavirus aid program.
The indictment charges the man and his partner in crime with federal conspiracy, shipping stolen goods across state lines, and stealing government property.
In the incident, which occurred last August, the man allegedly detached a trailer containing the ventilators from a truck parked at a warehouse in Boynton Beach, Florida, at 1:47 a.m. The tractor was expected to deliver the ventilators to Miami International Airport for eventual delivery to El Salvador, according to the complaint.
According to court documents, the theft was reported by the truck driver. Authorities were eventually able to track down most of the devices. In September, the FBI shared a photo of the man on social media platforms and offered a $5,000 reward for information regarding his location. He was subsequently arrested in Texas, in the city of Del Rio, a border town across the Rio Grande from Mexico.
The man first appeared in court last week in the Western District of Texas. Future court proceedings will occur in the Southern District of Florida, where the case is currently pending. Officials took the other man into custody in Florida in September, and he is being held without bond pending trial.
Ventilators are an essential medical device used to treat critically ill patients who are unable to breathe on their own. Hooked up to the patient’s airways via tubes, a ventilator pumps oxygen into a person’s body when they are too weak or their lungs are too inflamed to operate as normal. COVID-19, the infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, or coronavirus, can inflame a patient’s airways and prevent them from breathing without outside assistance.
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