FEMA awarded bankrupt company with no employees $55 million contract for N95 masks

The coronavirus pandemic has created a desperate clamber for vital medical supplies, like N95 masks, that has led the federal government to award massive contracts to third-party vendors to help fill the gaps.

In this chaotic effort to obtain supplies, the Trump administration awarded a $55 million contract to Panthera Worldwide LLC, a company with no expertise in the world of medical equipment, for N95 masks, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

Panthera’s parent company filed for bankruptcy protection last fall, and one of its owners last year said it’d had no employees since May 2018, The Post reported, citing sworn testimony. It’s no longer listed as an LLC in Virginia, where its main office is, after fees went unpaid, the newspaper said.

Panthera, which describes itself as a tactical training company for the US military and other government agencies, has no record of producing medical supplies or equipment, The Post said.

The company’s website says it “provides elite, scenario-based tactical, aviation and intelligence training and instruction for Defense Department, State Department, Federal Agency and Law Enforcement teams who operate in sensitive environments worldwide, to enable those teams to meet their mission goals and requirements.”

Panthera’s executives are being sued by a Virginia businessman who leased the company’s primary asset, a training facility in West Virginia, The Post reported.

James V. Punelli, one of Panthera’s executives, told The Post that the company was working with military contacts to obtain the masks.

“We’ve done [Department of Defense] 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,” Punelli said in a text message to The Post. “We made the connection with FEMA and offered these supplies to them.”

“We will provide these masks before May 1 for certain, in full and with a very high-quality product,” Punelli said, adding that the company is registered as an LLC in Delaware.

The Post reported that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was paying Panthera about $5.50 per mask, decidedly more than what the government pays companies with an established background in producing medical supplies such as 3M, which charges about $0.63 per mask.

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