A Florida company that allegedly sold more than 10,000 counterfeit 3M respirators to Hennepin County Medical Center has been slapped with an injunction from a federal court in Minnesota.
3M sued Nationwide Source Inc. in late December, claiming it was advertising and selling counterfeit N95 face masks — notably to HCMC, which paid more than six times 3M's standard price for the authentic goods.
U. S. District Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright on Friday granted 3M's request for a preliminary injunction, ordering Nationwide Source to stop using the company's trademarks and falsely representing itself as a 3M distributor or authorized retailer.
"Nationwide's activities were unlawful and endangered the lives of essential medical workers," Maplewood-based 3M said in a statement. Nationwide Source, located in Delray Beach, declined to comment.
Since COVID-19 3M surfaced, 3M has tripled production of its N95 respirators, often seen as the gold standard for filtering out pathogens.
The company has also investigated over 10,000 cases of fraudulent N95 sales, leading to 29 lawsuits and nearly as many injunctions and restraining orders. Thousands of false social media claims and fraudulent e-commerce N95 offerings have been removed from the internet, according to 3M.
The suit against Nationwide Source is rooted in a deal made with HCMC in November, 3M said in a court filing.
An HCMC employee received a solicitation from Nationwide Source offering two different models of 3M's N95 respirators at $7.95 a piece; the standard price is $1.27.
The employee asked Nationwide Source to vouch for the authenticity of the products. The company replied that the masks were made overseas, but it provided a verification report from an international inspection agency, the court filing said.
HCMC received the mask shipment on Nov. 16. About 25 days later, an HCMC nurse noticed a mask from Nationwide did not fit as expected, and suspected that the respirator may have been a counterfeit, the court filing said.
Rick Fuentes, a spokesman for the Minnesota Nurses Assocation, said the HCMC nurse found a model number on the mask and tracked it down online. "She told her supervisor and they started looking at the rest of the masks and they were exactly the same."
HCMC said in a statement it yanked the questionable respirators from use quickly after the nurse's discovery. "We are following up with team members who may have used these respirators."
Approximately 2% of the masks ordered from Nationwide Source may have been used or discarded, HCMC said. (HCMC employees are taught to do a seal check with N95s, so some faulty masks may have been thrown away.)
"At this time, we have not ruled out pursuing legal action against this company for selling a product that did not meet the standards it claimed," HCMC said.
On Dec. 14, HCMC reported the suspected fake N95 to 3M, which confirmed it was counterfeit.
3M said it sent a cease-and-desist letter to Nationwide Source, but received no response; it then sued.
Nationwide Source was incorporated last spring by Matthew Prager, who is listed as the company's president in a filing with the Florida Department of State.
Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003