The Trump administration is turning to some shady third-party vendors to get N95 masks, it should surprise no one to learn. After the administration waited until mid-March to order supplies in bulk despite being warned in January that a pandemic was coming, now the need is desperate—and the opportunities to steer business to questionable companies are plentiful.
While the biggest orders for masks have gone to reputable manufacturers like Honeywell and 3M, The Washington Post reports that, without competitive bidding, one $55 million contract for 10 million masks has gone to a tactical training company with no experience supplying medical equipment, among other big question marks.
“We’ve done DoD medical training over the years and through those contacts with that community were brought sources of supply in order to assist in the COVID-19 response,” a Panthera Worldwide LLC executive told The Post. So they went to FEMA and were promptly awarded a $55 million contract to supply N95 masks at several times the price the government is paying to actual mask manufacturers with experience providing masks.
That’s not the only questionable part of this contract, though. Panthera Worldwide LLC’s parent company, Panthera Enterprises, filed for bankruptcy last fall, said in bankruptcy filings that it hasn’t had any employees in nearly two years, has up to 99 creditors, and has liabilities up to $50 million. Panthera Worldwide LLC has allowed its LLC registration to lapse in Virginia, the state where it has its main office, defending itself by saying it has an LLC registration in Delaware and doesn’t do business in Virginia. Okay, then.
Also, Panthera leased out its main asset, a West Virginia training facility, to another company … which is now suing Panthera for misrepresenting the facility’s revenue and contracts.
So that sounds like the kind of outfit you’d bypass in the competitive bidding process to award a $55 million contract to provide some of the most sought-after product in the world at an inflated price, eh? Well, it actually does sound like business as usual for the Trump administration, and it will be interesting to see what ties surface between Panthera executives and members of Trump’s inner circle.