By: KDKA-TV News Staff
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The University of Pittsburgh’s former Emergency Management director has been indicted for stealing and selling for his own profit the school’s supply of coronavirus personal protective equipment online.READ MORE: Cincinnati To Settle Suit In Death Of Student Kyle Plush Who Called 911
According to investigators, 42-year-old Christopher Casamento, of Pittsburgh, ended up making nearly $19,000 from posting and selling the stolen PPE on eBay.
“It’s just crazy to think people in power would be doing that with things that are necessary for people to survive during a pandemic,” said Pitt senior Janani Ramen.
FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Michael Christman said in a news release, “Mr. Casamento had an obligation to make sure there was enough PPE to keep students and staff at the University of Pittsburgh safe. 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.”
— FBI Pittsburgh (@FBIPittsburgh) March 24, 2021
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania says Casamento has now been indicted by a grand jury on federal charges of interstate transportation of stolen property.
“The defendant was the director of Emergency Management at the University of Pittsburgh. That is not a low-level position. He was in a position of trust,” said Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Steve Kaufman.
The University of Pittsburgh says they fully cooperated with the FBI’s investigation. They also completed their own internal investigation and fired Casamento last July.
Investigators say Casamento is accused of stealing over 13,500 masks and other protective equipment from the university from Feb. 28 to March 22, 2020, as the pandemic worries grew.READ MORE: Penn Hills School District Provides Grief Counseling After Death Of Teacher James Schultz
They say types of N95 masks, particulate respirator masks and surgical masks, designated for use by school employees and students, were stolen. According to investigators, they were then sold on Casamento’s eBay page called Steel City Motor Toys and shipped out of state.
“He used eBay to sell these masks all over the United States and we have the tools we need to get the information from eBay. We take very seriously when someone seeks to profit from a pandemic, which all the rest of us are suffering from,” said Kaufman.
University of Pittsburgh students told KDKA’s Meghan Schiller they were shocked and disappointed to hear the news.
“I think it’s crazy that in times of need that he would be selling them for his own personal profit,” said senior Riya Patel.
“I’ve never felt like they under-supplied us but it’s just disappointing to hear people are doing this during a pandemic,” said senior Meera Tikku.
Senior Shruthi Sethuraman said her parents would also be disappointed to hear of this happening.
“They send us here to university where they want us to be fully prepared for anything, they’re trusting the university and when someone of such high power is supposed to be protecting us instead of selling things for his own profit, I just don’t think that’s fair,” said Sethuraman.
If convicted, Casamento faces maximum prison time of 10 years, plus hefty fines and supervised release.
Pitt’s full statement on the case follows:
In early July, federal and state law enforcement officials notified the University of Pittsburgh of an investigation into misappropriation of the University’s personal protective equipment supplies during February and March of 2020. The University fully cooperated with the FBI investigation, and Pitt’s internal review revealed Chris Casamento, who was then the University’s director of emergency management, misappropriated personal protective equipment from Pitt’s pandemic supplies. Mr. Casamento’s duties included distributing personal protective equipment designated for essential employees. Upon his admission of the misconduct and completion of our review, Casamento’s employment was terminated effective July 17, 2020. He had been with the University since 2007.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Pittsburgh has maintained an adequate stockpile of PPE sufficient to meet the needs of the University community. Fulfilment of requests for Personal Protective Equipment were not impacted as a result of the misappropriation. The University is seeking restitution for the misappropriated supplies from Mr. Casamento.MORE NEWS: Pa. Board of Game Commissioners Permits Some Digital Hunting, Furtaking Licenses
Stay with KDKA for Meghan Schiller’s full report on this developing story.