By Amanda Waltz
PITTSBURGH — A former University of Pittsburgh employee has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of stealing thousands of dollars worth of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) meant for students and school employees and selling them on his private eBay account.
The indictment alleges that Christopher Casamento, a Pittsburgh resident who previously served as Director of Emergency Management for the University of Pittsburgh, took 13,615 pieces of PPE from the school — including N95 respirator and surgical face masks —and sold them on his eBay vendor page “steel-city-motor-toys.” This is according to a March 23 press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office Western District of Pennsylvania.
In total, Casamento made over $18,700 from the eBay sales of the PPE, which were designated for the use of school employees and students. Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman announced that Casamento now faces one count of Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property for shipping to buyers in states outside of Pennsylvania.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which conducted the investigation leading up to Casamento’s indictment, found that the sales were made between Feb. 28 and March 22, 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. There were several reports of PPE shortages throughout Pittsburgh and elsewhere early in the pandemic.
“At the start of the pandemic, when supplies of PPE were low and nationwide demand was intense, Mr. Casamento used his position of trust and access to critical PPE to enrich himself at the expense of Pitt students and faculty,” says Kaufman in a statement. “We will continue to investigate and prosecute individuals who illegally profit from COVID-related fraud.”
— FBI Pittsburgh (@FBIPittsburgh) March 24, 2021
A statement from the University of Pittsburgh says the school was made aware of the investigation in early July 2020. It details that Casamento had full access to the PPE supplies as his duties included “distributing personal protective equipment designated for essential employees.”
Pitt terminated Casamento’s employment on July 17, 2020 after he admitted to stealing the supplies. He had been with the school since 2007.
If convicted, Casamento faces a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. The school is also seeking financial restitution from Casamento for the stolen supplies.
“Mr. Casamento had an obligation to make sure there was enough PPE to keep students and staff at the University of Pittsburgh safe,” said FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Michael Christman. “Instead, he chose to line his pockets. The allegations set forth today are upsetting. With so much widespread suffering in our communities due to COVID, having this vital equipment taken away from people is unfortunate. I would like to thank the University of Pittsburgh for their full cooperation in this investigation and hope this continues to send a message that COVID fraud will be fully investigated.”
Amanda Waltz is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.