Charleston, South Carolina — United States Attorney Peter M. McCoy, Jr., announced today that Frank Smail, Jr., 49, of Round O, and Mike Pellegrini, 58, of North Charleston, were charged in a multi-count federal indictment alleging conspiracy to steal personal protective equipment (PPE) from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Charleston. Smail was also charged with PPE theft, obstruction of justice, and lying to federal agents. According to the indictment, both Smail and Pellegrini worked for FLETC. The case was brought as part of the District of South Carolina’s Hoarding and Price Gouging (HPG) Task Force, and led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
“It is tragic that, at a time when PPE is most needed and in short supply, someone would steal this vital equipment from those who train our front-line federal law enforcement officers,” said U.S. Attorney McCoy. “This office will always stand up and protect our law enforcement partners. I appreciate the hard work of the FBI and our HPG Task Force, which worked tirelessly to investigate this case.”
“These charges reflect an alleged betrayal of colleagues and fellow citizens for selfish gain,” said Jody Norris, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Columbia. “The FBI and our partners within the HPG Task Force will not rest in our efforts to identify and hold accountable all those who seek to use this global pandemic to commit criminal acts.”
“I thank U.S. Attorney McCoy for his diligence in bringing the charges forward. I am extremely disappointed in the allegations that individuals who are part of the FLETC community may have been involved in the theft of any item,” said FLETC Director Thomas J. Walters. “I am grateful that we discovered the items missing and that the FBI’s Task Force worked with FLETC’s Office of Professional Responsibility in the investigation.”
According to the indictment, FLETC – which provides career-long training to law enforcement professionals in more than 90 Federal agencies – had a student and instructor test positive for COVID-19 on March 20, 2020. Just three weeks later, the indictment alleges that Smail stole a large amount of FLETC’s PPE supply after he and Pellegrini developed a plan to do so. According to the indictment, the large number of boxes stolen would have required a vehicle to transport and numerous trips to load the boxes. The indictment further alleges that Smail lied to Federal investigators and obstructed the Federal investigation into the PPE theft.
Pellegrini and Smail face up to five years for the conspiracy charge, and Smail faces up to 10 years for the PPE theft charge, up to 20 years for the obstruction charge, and up to five years for the charge of lying to Federal investigators.
This case is being investigated by the FBI and FLETC’s Office of Professional Responsibility as part of the District of South Carolina’s HPG Task Force. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Johanna Valenzuela and Derek A. Shoemake.
U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr created the COVID-19 Hoarding and Price Gouging Task Force to investigate and prosecute illegal activity involving protective personal equipment. The Secretary of Health and Human Services issued a notice designating categories of health and medical supplies that must not be hoarded or sold for exorbitant prices.
Anyone wishing to report COVID-19 fraud, hoarding, or price-gouging can do so by contacting the National Center for Disaster Fraud’s National Hotline via phone: (866) 720-5721, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S. Attorney McCoy stated that all charges in this case are merely allegations at this stage and that the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.