Former CEO Indicted for Misleading Investors About COVID-19 Rapid Test Kits
Investors Lost More Than $116 Million
(STL.News) The former chief executive officer of a publicly traded health care company was charged in an indictment filed today with two counts of securities fraud in connection with his alleged participation in a scheme to mislead investors about the company’s procurement of COVID-19 rapid test kits in the early days of the pandemic, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger, District of New Jersey, and Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division announced.
Marc Schessel, 62, of Greenwich, Connecticut, is charged by indictment with two counts of securities fraud. He is scheduled to make his initial court appearance June 7, 2022, in Newark federal court.
“As alleged in the indictment, Marc Schessel exploited the scarcity of COVID-19 tests at the outset of the pandemic to defraud investors and artificially increase his company’s stock price,” U.S. Attorney Sellinger said. “His alleged fraud cost investors millions of dollars in losses.”
“Schessel allegedly took advantage of the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to scam investors and manipulate the market,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Today’s indictment reinforces our commitment to rooting out schemes that have exploited the pandemic and holding accountable those who have prioritized greed during an unprecedented public health emergency.”
“It is a different type of profiteer who tries to benefit from a national disaster such as a weather event or a pandemic,” FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael Messenger said. “This defendant allegedly took advantage of the public’s angst and panic over a deadly virus and put forward false information to drive up his bottom line. The FBI is committed to fighting fraud and protecting the public at all times, but especially when our country is in the midst of a crisis.”
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Schessel caused his company to issue multiple public statements claiming that it was buying and reselling at least 48 million COVID-19 test kits, despite knowing that such statements were false and misleading. In early April 2020, Schessel executed a supply agreement with an Australian company to obtain 2 million COVID-19 test kits per week for six months, beginning on April 24, 2020.
The agreement was based on the Australian company’s representations that it had the appropriate permissions from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and was already distributing COVID-19 tests. Contemporaneously, Schessel received a purchase order from a U.S.-based company that planned to purchase the weekly shipments of 2 million COVID-19 test kits from Schessel’s health care company.
Despite learning new information on April 11, 2020, that called into question whether the Australian company had COVID-19 tests to sell to Schessel’s company that could be distributed in the United States, Schessel caused his company to issue a press release on April 13, 2020, in which it announced the purchase order for 48 million COVID-19 rapid test kits. Following this press release, Schessel received additional information that further called into question his company’s arrangements for the COVID-19 test kits.
Despite learning facts that cast significant doubt on the status of the COVID-19 test kit deals, Schessel repeatedly confirmed the status and terms of those arrangements on numerous occasions between April 13, 2020, and April 17, 2020. In the wake of the April 13 announcement, the health care company’s share price surged, rising by over 400 percent from approximately $2.25 per share to an intraday high of $14.88. per share. As a result of this scheme, investors lost at least $116 million.
The first count of securities fraud is punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison and the second count of securities fraud is punishable by a maximum of 25 years in prison.
U.S. Attorney Sellinger and Assistant Attorney General Polite credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Messenger, with the investigation leading to the charges.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sean Sherman and Lauren Repole of the District of New Jersey, and Acting Principal Assistant Chief Justin Weitz and Trial Attorneys Lucy Jennings and Spencer Ryan of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.