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Photographer: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg

Virus-Mask Auctioneer Accused of Deception in Texas Lawsuit

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Virus-Mask Auctioneer Accused of Deception in Texas Lawsuit

Catalan Health Institute Swab Collection For Covid-19 Drug Trial
Photographer: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg

A Houston auction house that offered to sell more than 750,000 medical face masks and other health-care equipment at inflated prices amid the coronavirus outbreak was accused of deceptive trade practices in a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Auctions Unlimited took bids on the face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes on its website starting March 17, with prices of some items surging, including $180 for a box of 16 masks, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday, which cited a report by Bloomberg News.

On Tuesday, auction site owner Tim Worstell told Bloomberg that he was commissioned by “large companies” to sell the items, but declined to identify them. Worstell estimated he netted as much as $40,000.

Read More: Masks Auctioned for Huge Markup While Hospitals Run Out

“My office will not tolerate anyone taking advantage of Texans in need and profiting from this health crisis,” Paxton said in a statement. He’s seeking a temporary injunction preventing Worstell from selling the products at inflated prices.

In an interview Thursday, Worstell said he didn’t violate the law and that the lawsuit will force him to keep the masks and other items in his warehouse until the dispute is settled.

“Basically, we do not believe we meet the terms of price gouging because everything started at one dollar,” he said. “We had no control how high people chose to bid. We did not ask for any price.”

— With assistance by Laurel Brubaker Calkins

(Updates with injunction request in fourth paragraph.)